School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Spotlight on Hawai’i Keiki Nurse Practitioner, Melissa Owens, and the Power of Saying “Yes”

Melissa Owens, MSN, APRN-Rx, NP-C, NCSN works in Hawai’i! This blog post could really end right here, that is a complete story to me. Imagine working in Hawai’i! Working in paradise sounds heavenly, but like all school nurses, Melissa’s school community has its share of complicated social determinants that impact student health and learning.

Melissa Owens, MSN, APRN-Rx. NP-C, NCSN shares her school nursing story that started when she said “yes” to a wonderful collaborative opportunity!Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 6.58.30 PM

“When the University of Hawai’i – Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene asked if I would be willing to help with a project, I was excited to pursue it. I am always open to and actively seeking any opportunities that can expand services for the students at my school. As a nurse practitioner, I operate a school-based health center in a middle school. In conjunction with a school health assistant, we care for an average of 425 students per month. Through funding from the National Center for Interprofessional Education, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Macy’s, Gordon and Betty Moore and Hartford Foundations, and the Hawaii State Center for Nursing’s Hawai’i Action Coalition my school gained access to pharmacy students, a child/ adolescent psychiatry fellow, and nurse practitioner students.

Over the past year, this partnership has allowed me to offer new services at my school, as well as provided an opportunity for health professionals to gain real-life experiences and training in collaborative practice. For example, giving a pharmacy student the chance to explain how to use lice shampoo in detail is beneficial for both the middle-school patient and the pharmacy student. Opportunities for pharmacy students to practice medication counseling with youngsters and directly engaging the middle schooler in their own healthcare are not often experienced during clinical pharmacy training as their interactions are typically with parents. Middle school is a perfect time to help adolescents engage in their own care and well-being. Other common examples of issues that pharmacy students consulted on were the application of scabies treatment, proper antibiotic usage, and how over-the-counter medications relieve menstrual cramps.

Partnering with child/adolescent psychiatry fellows gave me renewed energy and valuable guidance in addressing difficult student issues like bullying, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It provided the fellows a chance to experience the daily interactions in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and at recess that affects a child’s well-being. Furthermore, they were able to interact directly with teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators providing an opportunity to bridge the gap between service providers within and outside the school system.  

Working with a Doctor of Nursing Practice family nurse practitioner students gave me renewed optimism. Their enthusiasm was contagious and renewed my energy and focus. I was able to share my expertise in connecting what we see and the story we are told, a valuable skill to have when interviewing middle schoolers without a parent present. Hopefully, this skill serves them well no matter where they practice.   

We all benefited from this partnership. I gained a support network, made connections with mentors at the university who keep me inspired to think big and dream even bigger for my students’ sake. The health professions students benefited by witnessing the social determinants of health in real life and learning how to use a team approach to make a difference in children’s health and lives. The faculty and staff at my school gained additional resources and supports. But most importantly, the students of Dole gained desperately needed access to expanded health services. The impact of this partnership cannot truly be measured.  It reaches into the home when health information from school is shared with ‘ohana and only time will tell how many choose health-related careers due to role models they encountered here. All this resulted from taking a chance on a partnership by simply saying “Yes.”

Bio: Melissa Owens is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN (1999) and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Radford University in Radford, Virginia (2002). She earned a master’s degree in nursing from East Tennessee State University (2009). Melissa is board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She has over 16 years of clinical experience including as a registered nurse in Labor and Delivery/Newborn Nursery and as a family nurse practitioner in Internal Medicine and Rural Health. She currently serves as adjunct faculty for the University of Hawai’i – Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. She is a nationally certified school nurse and is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

Learn more about Hawai’i Keiki (children): Healthy and Ready Learn by exploring their website and watching a well-produced video!

“Hawaii Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn is a partnership between UH Manoa Nursing and the Hawaii Department of Education and sits at the intersection of education and health to support the Department of Education to achieve student, school, and system success.

The program is enhancing and building school-based health services that screen for treatable health conditions; provide referrals to primary health care and patient-centered medical home services; prevent and control communicable disease and other health problems and provide emergency care for illness or injury.

Students succeed academically when they come to school ready to learn. The evidence is clear that: Hunger, chronic illness, or physical and emotional abuse, can lead to poor school performance.

  • Health-risk behaviors such as substance use, violence, and physical inactivity are consistently linked to academic failure and often affect students’ school attendance, grades, test scores, and ability to pay attention in class.
  • School-based health programs decrease dismissal from school and are associated with better attendance.” – Hawai’i Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 7.48.58 PMHawai’i Keiki: The Impact of School Nurses: Video  

The National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education is advancing the way stakeholders in health work and learn together. Learn more about this incredible organization here:


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