Jeanne Kiefner is a living legend in school nursing. She refers to herself as ‘retired, but resourceful.’ She is an example to us that we can all be lifelong learners and make meaningful contributions to society well into our retirement years. I am so proud to publish Jeanne’s latest guest blog post below:
I am an octogenarian retired school nurse who prior to the pandemic spent my free time volunteering in the community. Since my retirement more than 20 years ago, I have served as an instructor in two New Jersey university school nurse certification programs. The importance of volunteerism is something I hold very dear. Volunteerism is many different things. It is initiative, innovation, patience, and passion in what you do. My opportunities to volunteer during the pandemic were gone because it was not safe.
My young (old) friend, Robin Cogan, a seasoned school nurse, knew I was struggling with the isolation of the pandemic. She gave me daily homework which challenged me. I began journaling the pandemic data to help me meet my social and emotional needs. I dedicated my thinking to the group I knew best, retirees with questions I wanted to answer. My devotion to my NJREA responsibilities kept me on my toes and it assured my family that I was just fine, although I did often wonder.
After months of isolation, I finally had an opportunity to volunteer with the Camden County Medical Reserve Corps. I would become a vaccinator as soon as COVID-19 vaccines were available. This was the spark of hope I needed to come alive during such a difficult time. Living alone during the pandemic, especially for seniors, has been very hard. But I continued to write daily and sought out learning opportunities to keep my brain engaged. One example was the contact tracing course through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where I was introduced to the new language of pandemics.
NJEA communications supported my work by posting articles that I wrote on the NJEA website for others to read. Some of my friends could see themselves in the scenarios that I wrote. My themes ensured that the retirees were in the landscape of thriving and getting a form of “reaching out and being touched.” Responses brought lots of humor from the readers as the year seemed to go quickly.
The holiday season of 2020 left little to look forward to. There would be no family visitations, no church, reading books became hard, but the vaccines were becoming available in January of 2021. And so on January 5, 2021, I accepted a whole new challenge with new people, new procedures, and learning about CDC regulations and the Covid 19 virus. I became a vaccinator at the Rowan University School of Medicine! My world began to open up again, I was volunteering, contributing, learning, and finding my way back to doing what I love most, nursing the community.
I was learning about Covid-19 and the contagious nature of this global pandemic. My free time was spent reading and investigating what I would now be teaching others. I had several roles in addition to administering vaccines. I helped people navigate the vaccine registration sites, which proved the trickiest. I promoted vaccine confidence in people who had concerns and questions. I felt prepared to address the misinformation that was floating around the community because the vaccination site had daily training with updated information in order to educate the public.
Rowan University School of Medicine hosted daily vaccination clinics from January through June of 2021. I looked forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays every week for six months because they were my volunteer days! Every day healthcare providers across sectors would volunteer their time. There were nurses, physicians, pharmacists, medical students, and nursing students vaccinating. Community members donated their administrative skills. I met one of my former students who now holds a Ph.D. in nursing; worked with school nurses from Cherry Hill; met young medical students learning the appropriate injection site; and listened to patients from all over New Jersey with multiple questions that I was prepared to answer.
The structure of the vaccination site was clearly delineated. Everyone knew their role and had a specific job to do. The main goal was to get as many vaccines in people’s arms as possible. We were up against the ravages of the pandemic and knew that providing free, accessible, and rapid vaccinations was our way out of this public health disaster. The excitement of snapping a selfie as the vaccine was administered was quickly followed by words of congratulations on having received the first dose. The emotions were running high, there was relief and celebration with each vaccine given. I promoted positivity for others to get vaccinated as I taught vaccine after-care. I encouraged them to share their experiences with their friends and family to get vaccinated too. Hesitancy was never an acceptable philosophy. I had confidence as a nurse educator that I could form a strong bond of hope and trust one patient at a time.
Every day in orientation at Rowan University School of Medicine, new research was promoted that I shared with my patients. My days were always good despite the fact that we only offered pretzels and water. We were competing with vaccination sites offering lottery tickets, beer, donuts, tickets to sporting events, and even cannabis. Nationally, I tracked the rate of vaccinated people rising from 50 – 60% with another 30% still having varying degrees of hesitancy and resistance.
I have now completed six months of vaccinating people, some of whom were my friends. One was my former principal, a current administrator at my former school, a secretary from my high school, and a multitude of people awaiting their second shot willing to wait in my station so they could get it from me. I used simple questions like “tell me what have you heard about getting the second shot” which opened a dialogue about the side effects of the vaccine. During the past six months, the patients’ ages have expanded from the Medicare group to those of college age, and now 12-15-year-olds are accessing the vaccination.
As a nurse who loves the history of nursing, I have always wanted to be like the nurses who responded during previous epidemics, and now I have. In 30 years what will be written about this time? Will it be written with a critical eye about how a virus brought out the best and the worst in us? My dream is that we will have identified and eliminated any barriers that did not improve health. Are we on the road to “normalcy?” Is the number of unvaccinated diminishing to counting on one hand? Will we reach herd immunity? Is the need for a booster just a thought now and will not be a necessity? I have many questions and am seeking answers, all because of volunteering as a nurse, something I love doing and being.
Bio: Jeanne Kiefner, MEd, RN, NJ-CSN, FNASN is on the faculty at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. Jeanne is a School Nurse retired from the Cherry Hill Board of Education serving children and the community for 28 years. Jeanne served at Rutgers University and is now with Rowan University as a faculty member in the Post Baccalaureate School Nurse Certificate Program. She is committed to the advancement of the specialty practice of School Nursing. For 25 years, she was the academic event planner for school nurse regional conferences with American Healthcare Institute and NASN. Jeanne is past president of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association and has served the National Association of School Nurses as a New Jersey Director and held other Committee Chairs. She is a Johnson & Johnson School Nurse Leadership Fellow and in the state of New Jersey is a Certified Advocate for NJ Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Jeanne has served at the University of Pennsylvania Barbara Bates Center for Study of Nursing History and Research and is a contributor to the Museum of Nursing History located at LaSalle University, Pennsylvania. Among recognitions, Jeanne is most proud of her Leadership Awards from the NJSSNA 2012, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of School Nurses 2018, and the 2019 President’s Award.
2 thoughts on “The Relentless School Nurse: Volunteerism – How a Retired School Nurse Found Purpose During the Pandemic”
In thirty years historians will be commenting on nurses like Jeanne, showing what human beings, when put to the test, are capable of.
Wow inspiring!! New Jersey builds and promotes excellence in school nursing no matter what your age!!!