School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: We Should Not Need “Thick Skin” to be a School Nurse

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. 

3 thoughts on “The Relentless School Nurse: We Should Not Need “Thick Skin” to be a School Nurse”

  1. Strongly disagree. As nurses we deal with people when they are not feeling well. During COVID we give out bad news. To expect everyone to be able to handle all these tough situations with grace and civility is not only unrealistic it is also not empathetic. Having a thick skin may not be a badge of honor but will really help one absorb another’s frustration with patience.

    1. Yes, people are not always at their most pleasant when they aren’t feeling well, but this is different. I am used to mentally ill or drug addicted people sometimes being nasty. I am used to that. After 34 years as a registered nurse, I am shocked at the level of hostility being openly expressed at school nurses, nurses in general. I see incredible displays of selfishness and sanctimony. Verbal abuse, threats and hostility are not acceptable or normal responses to being told by the medical professional at your child’s school that your child’s mask needs to cover both their nose and mouth, or that they have to say home for a few days so as not to infect all of their playmates. Being told that yes, the rules really do apply to you, too.
      It is amazing that a parent who tells everyone what a great parent they are, how careful they are, can model this behavior for their children. What will be the effect of this in their children, now and in the future? And what is this all doing to us, the school nurses?
      There is a difference in having thick skin when a parent is annoyed about a nurse talking about hygiene with their child and being screamed at, being told with vitriol, “You are worthless!”

      1. Totally agree, Nurseknuckles, I’ve gone from not being able to drag myself away from my students and staff (I am past retirement age) to counting the days until I retire at the end of the school year. My skin can’t get any thicker!

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