Every time I hear a school nurse say, “it’s a good thing I have thick skin,” I cringe. We should not need thick skin to do our job, but this is what things have devolved into during COVID. Not that prior to COVID, life was unicorns and rainbows in our school health offices, but the vitriol has escalated to epic proportions over these past twenty months.
Having thick skin may help in the moment to not dissolve into a puddle of tears in front of those who are throwing abuse and unwarranted anger our way as we attempt to explain COVID safety protocols. The words and toxicity still penetrate and hurt way beyond those moments. Can we create environments where we do not have to use descriptors like “thick skin” as a badge of courage or honor?
Imagine working in a system that valued civility and respectful discourse; where school nurses had the time, space, and supports in which to have difficult conversations and the ability to process our challenges. Instead, we are expected to move seamlessly from being battered to delivering compassionate care.
We are not machines, we actually require time to reset. We also work alone and can only see one student at a time, answer one email at a time and answer one phone call one at a time. We are constantly bombarded with the competing urgent requests, demands, real and perceived emergencies of the entire school community. Yet, there is little to no thought that perhaps the constant state of hypervigilance that our job requires may be impacting our own health and well-being. Or better yet, that we need HELP in our offices.
I don’t want to take pride in having thick skin as a badge of honor as a school nurse. I don’t want invisible battle scars from fighting to keep students and staff safe during the pandemic. What I really want is to create a healing centered environment where I can give people my calm and not my stress or worry. What i really want is to love my job again and not dread Monday morning on Friday night. What I really want is to feel safe and be safe at school.