Advocacy & Activism, COVID19, Health Literacy, School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: In Conversation With Nurse Coach, Eileen Gavin!


Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Relentless School Nurse – In Conversation with Eileen Gavin, the Nurse Coach. My friendship with Eileen began in 2015 when I was a Johnson & Johnson School Health Fellow and she was a program mentor and community coach. The following year, I was invited back to join Eileen as a mentor and coach and our friendship was forever bonded. We were known as Lucy and Ethel, pushing the boundaries of programming and innovating engaging experiences for our beloved J&J School Health Leadership participants. 

When I decided to create a video blog version of The Relentless School Nurse, I knew Eileen would be my first guest because she always says YES in support of my Lucy antics. Thank you, Eileen, for your leadership in school nursing, but most of all your friendship. 

The Relentless School Nurse – In Conversation will be visiting friends and colleagues who have become friends that I have met along the way in the world of school nursing and beyond. I hope you enjoy this inaugural episode and I look forward to providing more engaging conversations in the weeks and months to come. 

The following guest blog post from Eileen takes a deep dive into her journey leading school nurses through the COVID19 pandemic response in her district and beyond. She has generously shared a narrated version of her presentation: School Nurse Training for Communicable Disease Management & Investigation of COVID 19.  

Eileen Gavin, MSN, FNP-BC, NCSN

Like many nurses, I have an innate inner force that draws me to implement change. When I see inappropriate management, policies, and procedures that are unjust, I take a stand as a changemaker.  If my school district was open and we were not virtually learning, I’d invite you all to my high school building. As you enter my non-virtual health office, a carved piece of wood welcomes you with Mahatma Gandhi’s quote  “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” with the hope of inspiring all students that enter. I would have never predicted that this quote would play itself out as a driving force behind a partnership with a health officer inundated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This inherent partnership grew to connect and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus within my community.  

Through numerous leadership programs and training, it has become apparent that change does not come easy. Many failed attempts can occur and/or some very potentially successful projects can get bogged down by negativism, an ingrained culture of complacency, or even through inertia and anxiety surrounding change. These negative experiences can smother innovative practice and leave school nurses feeling devalued and unimportant. Sometimes innovative ideas are halted by those comfortable with the status quo or those paralyzed as they await direction. Complacency with the status quo, or inaction during health threats, truly fails our 21st-century school nurse practice.  

There have been many times in my nursing career that I’ve been called a nurse leader, a trailblazer, or my most valued title, mentor. Throughout my career, I have been ahead of the curve, confronting critical community health concerns, such as an opioid epidemic, vaping, and now COVID-19.  Even though these leadership terms are cherished, Robin reminded me of another term that I once used in my blog, “The Nurse Coach.” That is how I feel today, as I lead the way for my school nurse team to embrace their public health role as community responders to COVID-19. 

At the beginning of this pandemic, a team of 18 school nurses joined me as leaders, partnering with the Health Department as COVID 19 ravaged our NJ community. As their Nurse Coach, I introduced them to the world of contact tracing (communicable disease investigation), mitigation education, and case management in those that tested positive for COVID-19. This urgent work goes beyond the walls of our school health offices as we care for all members of our community infected with COVID-19.  

As with all high performing teams, they cannot take the field or court without the support of their team managers. The support of our administrative team managers is invaluable and most apparent in the article that our Superintendent, William O. George, and Assistant Superintendent, Mary Ellen Walker published in a weekly Middletown Pride Newsletter (see below)    

Middletown Township’s Article:

Middletown school nurses care a great deal about their community. Their nursing hearts have called them to duty to serve as public health nurses through a collaborative approach to communicable disease investigations. During this pandemic, 19 Middletown Township school nurses have been trained to work with the local health department in the communicable disease investigations of individuals reported to be COVID-19 positive. School nurses are providing  COVID-19 mitigation education and counseling on isolation/quarantine strategies, along with offering case management resources for issues that many people face, such as food insecurities, financial challenges, and mental health referrals. This endeavor is a collaborative effort by the Middletown Township Health Department and Middletown Township Public School’s certified school nurses. This public health partnership is an essential component of school nursing practice, targeting surveillance, health education, and risk reduction. It is our hope that these efforts will help to contain the spread of COVID-19 between household members and close contacts in our community, while also decreasing admissions to our already overburdened hospital systems.

This is primary prevention at it’s best, demonstrating an aspect of school nurses’ public health practice that can be easily implemented. However, a partnership with the local health department is imperative to achieve optimal outcomes, so we appreciate the partnership we have developed with Rich DeBenedetto. School nurses are hopeful that this public health project and training program will serve as a model for other communities to replicate, allowing school nurses to relieve overburdened health departments and provide education to those positive or at risk for COVID-19 in a timely manner. With these strategies in place, school nurses can dampen the curve of the spread of this virus at the household and community level with the hope of keeping as many people out of the hospital as possible. 

The most important takeaway from this blog is that school nurses need to be confident leaders among all of the uncertainty surrounding this COVID-19 pandemic. This requires a game plan:

 Step 1: Watch –  School Nurse Training for Communicable Disease Management & Investigation of COVID 19. 

This training was specifically developed to train New Jersey school nurses.  All resources are based on the New Jersey Department of Health guidelines. This information is pertinent to all school nurses, not just those conducting contact tracing (communicable disease investigation) in New Jersey, but can also be useful to school nurses during routine illness surveillance in their school community.  

Step 2: Reach out to your local health officers and offer assistance with their growing volume of contact tracing (communicable disease) investigation of those that are COVID-19 positive. This partnership will be vital when schools resume normal scheduling.

Step 3: Embrace your new mantra, “Put me in coach”. It’s not too early to get on the re-entry planning committee for your school.  

Most importantly, even though school nurses are living in a virtual world and are physically separated, try to stay connected to your colleagues, students, school staff and community. 

Wishing you the best health as you lead!

Eileen Gavin, The Nurse Coach 

Bio: Eileen Gavin, MSN, FNP-BC, NCSN is a nationally certified school nurse and co-lead nurse in the Middletown Township School District of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Her educational background includes a Bachelors of Nursing (BSN), a Masters of School Nursing (MSN), and a Post-Masters Certificate in Advance Practice from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She is nationally board certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as a Family Nurse Practitioner and the National Board for Certification of School Nurses. In 2013, Eileen became an alumnus of the Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Institute and has served as a mentor /liaison and community coach with the program for several years. Eileen’s clinical experience includes family practice, urgent care, preventive medicine, disease management, emergency medicine, and pediatric primary care. Eileen’s interests include health promotion and policies, emergency medicine, pediatric health care across the lifespan, and addressing healthcare disparities. Most recently, Eileen’s professional focuses have been the increasing opioid epidemic in New Jersey’s communities by serving as an active member of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Opioid Task Force Committee and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Currently, she has been appointed as Co-Chair of the Legislative Committee of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association executive board and serves as a member of the Brain Alliance of New Jersey’s Concussion in Youth Sports Steering Committee.  Eileen has been recognized as an accomplished mentor and educator through multiple awards on the local, state and national level. 




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.