Nursing, school nurse, School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: A Message from Nicki Zimmerman – Never give up, never surrender!

Nicki Zimmerman is a veteran school nurse with more than 25 years serving the students in her Oregon school district. When Nicki decided to sit for national certification last year, she joined an online study group that I monitor on behalf of the National Board for School Nurse Certification.  We finally met in real life this past summer at the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) Conference. It is always wonderful to meet virtual colleagues in real life! 

When Nicki attends NASNs annual conference, she reflects on her experiences and deep learning by writing her thoughts and sharing her reviews with colleagues. Nicki makes this a regular practice for state and local conferences she attends as well. She is certainly bringing session evaluations to a new level and creating a collection of meaningful moments that are often forgotten as conference memories either fade or meld into each other. Good job Nicki, this is a great practice and I am happy that you asked to share your thoughts with the readers of this blog.


Nicki Zimmerman, MSN, RN, NCSN


Part of my “therapy” to help me deal with the craziness of the start of the school year is to sit down and write out what I learned and what meant the most to me from NASN Conference.   Then, in my unique style, share what I have “taken away” from conferences with colleagues.   You can ask my fellow Oregon colleagues at OSNA.  My email reviews of conferences are well known.  So, I thought I would share my impressions and thoughts about the NASN Conference in Denver this past June.

There seemed to be a lot of sessions about different aspects of ACES.   It is awful and horrifying to think about how many different ways there are to harm our children.   One of the general sessions a young woman presented about when she was raped while attending a private exclusive boarding school in High School.   What happened after she was raped was even more horrendous (if that is even possible).   Her friends ditched her and the school failed her.   Yet she persevered, brought him up on charges, and then the legal system also failed her.   The Judge said he was a young man with a “bright, promising future” who shouldn’t be impeded from going on to Harvard.   Not the first or last time a judge would so rule and fail the victim and justice.  

Just last year in another case I read that a Judge said the exact same thing, that a young man from “a good family with a promising future” shouldn’t lose the chance to attend Harvard.    It made me want to write a letter to the Admissions Board of Harvard and tell them they SERIOUSLY need to look at all the “fine, upstanding” young men they are admitting and make sure they are NOT admitting entitled, privileged boys who don’t think they need to pay any consequences for their behavior.   Use and abuse people without being accountable.  How can they think that way????  It is appalling.    

So, that naturally leads to ask what can we do to help our students enduring the effects of various ACES?  My school has one of the poorest socioeconomic indicators in Oregon.   Very diverse, very poor, and very needy.   We have a clothes closet and a food pantry and other resources I use to fill student’s needs.   I am very comfortable with getting the dental, vision and other physical and mental health needs of my students met. 

However, when they tell me the horror of different ACES they have gone through, I sometimes feel like a deer in the headlights.  What can I do to make it better for them?  Where do you possibly start?  What this bright young woman shared, what the national conference told us, and what the research has found is the same thing.  BELIEVE them.   Support them.  Not any magic formula, not a complicated medical or educational policy and procedure. 

You cannot necessarily promise them that things will be taken care of just because it has been reported.  You cannot promise a lot of things.   But you can be present for them, take them seriously, tell them you believe them.  Offer a quiet space for when they need a little time to regroup.  The presenter said that those things are what would have helped her the most.  In the question and answer time, a colleague (not sure where she is from) brilliantly demonstrated that (wish I had said it).  She told the presenter “You are so brave to share your story.   We are school nurses from around the country, and you have made sure we will go back and believe and support what students tell us.  You have just helped thousands of students.”    Her Mom was on a panel in a general session later, and spoke about how much that meant to her daughter.  The young woman was teary realizing what an impact telling her story might make. 

I also thought about the National Conference a few years ago when Rich Bruni presented and told the story when he was working in the ER.   An 8 year old girl was brought in to the ER after being brutally beat up by her Mom and her boyfriend.  It was obvious, and they were arrested and taken to jail immediately. 

The injuries left her critically injured and dying, and he was overwhelmed by the fact that she was all alone.  Then a few hours later the girl’s grandmother walked in, and he thought thank God, someone is here for her.   However, he soon found out all she was there for was the Mom’s purse with her paycheck in it that had been left behind when she was arrested.   He told her “But that is your granddaughter in there” and she said “I can’t do anything about that, so it is a waste of time” and she left. 

He was devastated for this poor little girl, and realized all he could do while her life was passing away was show her the love and kindness she never got in this life.   He held her hand and started singing “Somewhere over the rainbow” in a few minutes the whole ER staff was in this little girl’s room singing quietly to her with him as she passed away.  I distinctly remember crying and almost falling out of my chair at that point of his presentation, like many others in the audience.   Many might have quit their jobs at that moment, but Rich Bruni shared that it made him more determined than ever that no other child would ever go through that alone.   He turned that horrible circumstance into something to keep him going.  

That was my lesson from National Conference this year in Denver.  Keep on going- never give up, never surrender.  Don’t let it burn you out, become cynical and just give up.  Turn the horrible circumstances you may find your students dealing with into something worth fighting for, something positive.   If only to be present for them.   If the only thing you can do is to hold their hand and sing “Somewhere over the rainbow” to them.  Words of kindness and support matter, especially when that is all you have to give. 

I always like to cement my point by quoting books, movies, and/or songs (research shows you will remember this more because of these word associations).   Three great examples- 1.  Winston Churchill in his famous speech when it looked like Germany would overrun England defiantly said “We will never give up, never surrender”.   (my most erudite quote, good for those who are the “stiff upper lip” very professional type.  2.  In the movie “Galaxy Quest” (A Star Trek spoof starring Tim Allen) the motto of the space ships crew was “Never give up, never surrender”.   Check it out on NETFLIX, it is a cute movie.   And if any of you deduce that my sons are Sci-Fi fans and have had WAY too much influence on my movie viewing, you are ABSOLUTELY right.   (However, this is most in line with my personality, comedy/fun/joy that is meaningful).  3.  For all you Disney fans out there (doesn’t every blog have to have a Disney reference?)  Watch “Finding Nemo”.   Dory is a wonderful example of never giving up, “Just keep swimming”.   That is for all you children at heart.  

So, I hope I have hammered my point home.   Never give up, never surrender.  Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well- take a break, do some mindfulness, go for a walk, do something you love, write a blog (just can’t copy me).  Do whatever you do to enjoy life so you can “keep up the good fight”.  Don’t forget to breathe.  You will prevent burn out and be much better prepared to help.

Wanting to end on a lighter note, attending NASN Conference also helps you find out about yourself.   I will share how I “never give up, never surrender” in different circumstances.

  1. The Director of School Health Services where I work ended up sending 3 of my colleagues to NASN Conference due to my asking him.  At one of the last meetings of the school year I thanked him for sending those school nurses to National Conference (had not really been done before).   He looked at me and said “You are amazing, but being honest, you are exhausting.”    Truthfully, I really hadn’t thought I asked him that many times, and didn’t think I had been that pushy about it, but obviously I was, so there you go.
  2. Our amazing NASN Director Donna Mazyck can also attest to how “exhausting” I am.  We met years ago (she even presented at an OSNA Conference way back when).  We had communicated by email now and again, seen each other at conferences, and she probably thought I was somewhat low key.   Then about 4 years ago came the election that Oregon’s own “cool” and “amazing” Nina Fekaris was running for NASN President Elect.   The election was done, and the results were due any day, and the OSNA Spring Conference was going to start in a couple of days.   I wanted to be able to announce that Nina had won so bad I could taste it.   I think (OK, I know) I phoned and emailed Donna way too many times at NASN to ask for results.   Think child asking every 30 seconds “Are we there yet?” annoying.  Yet each time she warmly told me that results were not known yet, no announcement yet.  She put up with me, and to this day still greets me with a big smile a great hug, so she must understand my “never give up, never surrender” personality, if only a little bit.
  3. Robin Cogan actually rewarded me for my tenacity. We got to know each other when I joined the National Certification School Nurse exam on line study group she runs.  So it was great to put a face and name together and get to know each other more in Denver.   She participated in a panel in one of the general sessions.    When I complemented her about it afterward, she told me- “I usually don’t give out things, but I know that this is definitely you.” Then she handed me a “relentless school nurse” pin that I proudly wore the rest of the conference.
  4. Ashley Tillman, who runs the NASN bookstore at conferences, has also had to put up with my relentlessness. 2 or 3 years ago I ended up losing all my NASN Conference pins.  She helped me replace all but 1.  Did that stop me from asking her multiple times at every conference after that for the 1 pin I needed?  My relentlessness paid off, and she ended up finding the last one I needed!  Orlando 2012!  She put up with me as well, and this gives me a chance to give her a huge public thank you!  Appreciate you Ashley!


NASN Conference also gives you a chance to learn more about your colleagues!

  1. A Special Needs School Nurse that works with me was one of the three that came to NASN.   We know each other as school nurses fairly well.   Spending time together at conference I found out even more about her.   We went to the opening Dance Night before Conference and I delightfully discovered she is a bigger and more enthusiastic dancer than me- and THAT is saying something!
  2. The Oregon delegation always sat together, and our first order of business was comparing our total steps for the day. I knew that they were all big promoters of healthy habits, but it warmed my heart to know we promote healthy habits not only to our students but to each other as well.  Getting to know your colleagues is powerful!


So, as I go back to my piles of paperwork in my office that signifies the MD orders, trainings and documentation that I am so behind on, I wish you all a happy start to the school year.   Remember to breathe and “just keep swimming”.   Never give up, never surrender.   Make going to NASN Conference a School Nurse Career bucket list item.   If you haven’t been for a while, go next year to Vegas!  You will not regret it.  I know NASN puts out hints for you to share with your employer to get them to support you going to NASN Conference.  You also need to figure out your own personal reasons and motivation for wanting to go- what do you want to get out of Conference?  I just want to point out that it is SO much more than the sessions.  Come find out for yourself!

Bio: Nicky Zimmerman, MSN, RN, NCSN,  celebrated her 25 th anniversary as a school nurse last year, 22 of those years at a high school in Portland, OR. She also (after many years of putting it off) became a Nationally Certified School Nurse last year. Although statistically Oregon is largely Caucasian, the students she serves are the exception to that. It is the most diverse High School in the state of Oregon. Large numbers of refugees, immigrants, and other groups from all over the world. The students there also have the lowest socioeconomic indicators in the area.  Her school population is very diverse, with many health and education needs, which has fostered her “never give up, never surrender” philosophy she is sharing in this blog. Given her length of service, you could say she was a “relentless school nurse” before being a “relentless school nurse” was cool.

1 thought on “The Relentless School Nurse: A Message from Nicki Zimmerman – Never give up, never surrender!”

  1. You know how sometimes God gives you what you need just at the exact moment you need it? Well this is my “it”. I’m fighting a TOUGH battle with Administration right now and I need hope. This message is my hope. The small school I work in in the state of Iowa is a very low income location. So many ACES. Now I have a rainbow for my pocket to pull out during those dark times. Thank you!!!

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