School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Spotlight on Lori Willingham and her “Nurse’s Tool Box”

cropped-logo-clip.pngIn my wanderings through the Twittersphere, I have been fortunate to meet amazing school nurses doing extraordinary work across this country. This week, I want to shine a Relentless School Nurse spotlight on Lori Willingham, MEd, RN, a high school nurse from a suburb outside of Philadelphia, PA.  Lori tweeted about a program she presented at her school’s Parent Council to explain her role and the services she provides to the school and the community. I saw her tweet and was very intrigued by the picture she posted. It is included at the end of this blog. Lori not only responded to my tweet, but she agreed to tell her story! Thank you, Lori!

NASN President, @NinaFekaris shared her vision for school nurses to use our collective voices and tell stories about the real work we do and the impact we have.

My focus during my NASN presidency will be about trying to empower school nurses to use their voices to tell the stories of their students and about the lives they have touched, so that the public can better understand the role of the school nurse and our positive impact on the future of children in our country.”-Nina Fekaris, MS, BSN, RN, NCSN

It is up to school nurses to define who we are and what we do. We need to speak up and out and explain our role and our impact on student and community health. This year is being dedicated to that mission at NASN and for school nurses across the country.  Our work is too important to be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Lori has done a fantastic job defining school nursing through the tools that we use every day. One really important thing to point out is that Lori offered – she did not wait to be asked to present her role.  Lori created an opportunity to share her specialty practice of school nursing with parents of high school students.  Kudos to Lori for challenging herself to present her role in a creative and inventive way!

This was not a typical power point presentation, Lori spoke from her heart by sharing her “Nurse’s Tool Box.” Lori recreated her presentation for us, in her words:

“Why:  There is no doubt the role of the school nurse is somewhat of a mystery. Those outside of our ranks may believe that we spend our day handing out cough drops and band-aids.   While we do deliver those necessities, the role of the school nurse is complex and challenging, stressful and rewarding.  As school nurses, we need to be our own advocates and cheerleaders. If we truly believe that every child deserves a school nurse, we need to spread the word and share our stories

This past fall, I offered to share a short presentation with our school’s parent council about the role of the school nurse.  My principal happily put me on the agenda for January. I am so fortunate to work with a group of administrators who value school nurses.

Instead of spending time creating a PowerPoint or video, I decided to use the old-fashioned show and tell technique.  I collected items from my office that represent the variety of tasks we carry out every day.  This allowed me the freedom to speak comfortably without being tied to a script or screen.

Feedback:  While the parents did not ask many questions after the presentation, I did witness smiles and nods (fortunately no nodding-off).   One mom shared that her daughter had visited our office a couple of times this year and commented on the warm kindness and care that she received.  That one comment made the whole presentation worth it!

Presentation to Central Bucks High School Parent Council on 1/24/18:   

I love my job, so it is always a joy to talk about school nursing.  Whenever I have the opportunity to share the nuances of my role as a school nurse, people are amazed at the multi-faceted nature of our days.

I once had a student who visited my office during one of those quiet moments.  He looked at me and said, “What do you do all day?  Aren’t you bored?”   I think that honest, direct teenager voiced the sentiment of many persons, including others in the health care field.

School nursing is a unique, specialized role.  We are professionals who were trained in the medical world, often gaining experience in hospitals and clinics.   When we find ourselves as the sole health professional in the middle of an academic setting, it is similar to being a new-graduate all over again.  We even have to learn a new language (the academic world may have more acronyms than the medical world!)

I explained the educational process to become a Certified School Nurse as well as the two levels of nurses we have in our district:  CSNs and Staff Nurses.

I talked about the many organizations and guidelines that shape our practice:    Nurse Practice Act, Pennsylvania Department of Health, PA Department of Education, Central Bucks School District and our Medical Director. In addition, we are faculty members within our school building.   I shared with parents that the requirement for their child’s second meningococcal vaccine isn’t a rule that the school nurse decided upon, rather a directive from the Health Department.

Inside Lori’s Nurse’s Tool Box

Emergency Bag – even though I didn’t bring the bag to the presentation, I shared a few of its contents:  epi-pen, glucose, Narcan

IPad –  The nurses in our district have iPads that we can easily carry to meetings or use to show our students helpful apps.   Twitter is a great source for health information and networking

CPR Chart –  All of the CSNs in our district are American Red Cross CPR and Red Cross instructors.  We provide classes for staff as well as transportation department.

Syringe – immunization mandate management takes a lot of time 🙂

Snellen chart – mandated screenings for each student

Stethoscope – unpredictable days in our offices – we never know what health issue is going come through our doors.  Since we are the only health professional in our buildings, we must have strong assessment skills and be prepared to make decisions quickly and calmly.  We do not have a physician around the corner or at the other end of the phone.

Staff Emergency Cards – caring for my staff is a highlight for me.  Since I have a strong background in adult medicine before becoming a school nurse, I love getting the opportunities to teach and care for adults from time to time.  (Plus, I don’t have to call their parents!).  I am always honored when staff members seek my opinion or assessment.

NASN Journal – Our national organization offers incredible support, resources, and education for its members.  I am also a member of PASNAP, Certified School Nurses of Bucks County as well as a colleague to my 16 other CSNs in our district.  We all learn from each other!

Parenting Book – another aspect I enjoy is my conversations with parents.  Sometimes it entails a discussion about an illness or injury, but many times it is about raising teenagers.  While I am not a parenting expert, I did survive raising two of my own.  One of the best comments I can offer a parent is “This is normal teenage behavior” or “You will get through this” 

Relationships with my students – the number one reason I find joy in my role.  Sometimes these interactions are short and sweet while others will continue after the student graduates.  I shared a personal story about a former student who exhibited incredible resiliency and is now a freshman at Harvard University.   In this particular student-nurse relationship, the tables were turned… I learned from my student.” – Lori Willingham, MEd, RN


Lori is clearly a “Relentless School Nurse” for sharing her passion for her work, her students, staff, and community.  Please feel free to share your thoughts about how you might use Lori’s “Nurses Tool Box” in a presentation for your school community.  Nina Fekaris has certainly sparked a revolution of “Relentless School Nurses” speaking up and out about the specialty practice that is school nursing.


Lori Willingham is the Certified School Nurse at Central Bucks High School South.  She began her nursing career thirty-six years ago. She received her Associate’s Degree from the State University of New York and her BSN from the University of Kentucky.   Working in the hospital and clinic setting, her background includes Medical/Surgical, Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Staff Development and Same-Day Surgery.  Fifteen years ago, Lori began working as a staff nurse in the Central Bucks School District.  She returned to school receiving her School Nurse Certification and has been in that role for 10 years. She has a Master of Education degree from Eastern University.  

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