School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: A Heartfelt Retirement Speech With an Advocacy Message



One of my fav pictures of Kathy and me at our NJSSNA Spring 2023 Conference!


Kathy McCutcheon, MSN, RN, NCSN, did her school nurse practicum in my office in 2003. She was an experienced nurse who had returned to school for her school nurse certification. She landed in my health office, beginning a friendship of two decades. We co-chaired the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA) Spring Conference in 2019, before the world shut down. I have seen Kathy blossom from a novice school nurse to one of New Jersey’s most valued school nurse leaders, and now to her much deserved retirement. I have heard people refer to that magical time as “preferment,” which seems to be the perfect sentiment for the next chapter. Nurses never really retire, especially school nurses. I know that Kathy will continue her leadership and advocacy, focusing on teaching in the Rutgers-Camden School Nurse Specialty Program and volunteering at the state level as an NJSSNA board member. Congratulations to you, friend, so proud to know you! 

You can read Kathy’s testimony and watch the video of her presentation, which was a call to action to her board of education to continue supporting school nurses even after she retires. Here is a link to the Philadelphia Inquirer article featuring Kathy (pictured below) during COVID: ‘It’s not boo-boos and Band-Aids’: COVID-19 thrust school nurses onto the front line “Never did we know how much we need them,” the president of New Jersey’s largest teachers union says about the role of school nurses during the pandemic. Minus the headline, it was a great article!

For the past 37 years, I have worked as a registered nurse in many different settings and earned an advanced nursing degree, multiple certifications in various nursing specialties, including national school nurse certification. However, the last 18 years in Haddon Township HS have been the most challenging and rewarding time of my nursing career. I want to thank the BOE and administration, including Dr. Fisicaro and the previous superintendents, Principals, especially Gary O’Brien, for the opportunity to work in Haddon Township High School. 

I want to especially thank the parents and students who I have had the privilege of serving. I hope I have touched lives in a positive way. 

In New Jersey, certified school nurses are registered nurses who have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed post baccalaureate coursework and an education services certificate. We are bound by the laws and regulations of our state nurse practice act as well as Department of Education statues. School nurses are usually the only medically trained professional in the building. We are the “Chief Wellness Officers, even if that is not our official title, that is our role. Certified school nurses work at the intersection of healthcare and education and with the goal of having students safe, healthy, in class and ready to learn. Evidence demonstrates the link between health and academic success and school nurses are an investment in student achievement. 

In the past 18 years, the lifetime of this year’s graduating seniors, school nursing has changed dramatically. While most of you recognize that school nurses have always been responsible for every student, staff member and visitor who may become ill or injured while in our buildings, 

We also manage medication administration, immunization compliance, mandatory screening programs including vision and hearing, health education, and participate in 504 and CST meetings.

Over the years our role has expanded to include emergency response planning, such as Cardiac Rapid Response team training for sudden cardiac death, epinephrine delegation for anaphylaxis, diabetes education, glucagon delegation, opioid antagonist supplies as well as education and management of asthma, concussion, and seizures. Many school nurses monitor absenteeism to remove barriers and improve school attendance. We are often first to identify mental health challenges in our students. We provide expert care coordination and have a wealth of knowledge regarding community resources for families and school staff. We have always promoted health equity for our under-resourced families. 

Chronic health conditions in school aged children has gradually increased over the years and is now ~40% of the student population according to the CDC Healthy Schools website. Health conditions ranging from ADHD, asthma, anaphylaxis, cardiac conditions; diabetes and GI disorders like Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis and IBS; Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and seizure disorders, require more support during the school day for our students. Our school nurse responsibilities have expanded exponentially as our students are more medically complex. Who is best to optimize the health of the school aged child while in school, the school nurse. 

Thank you for the past support of ensuring there are certified school nurses in the Haddon Township School District and I hope you will consider adding nursing staff. School nurses are vital to the education of our children. As former United States Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders famously said: “You can’t educate a child who is not healthy or keep a child healthy who is not educated.” 

Thank you!  Kathy McCutcheon, MSN, RN, NCSN

Listen to Kathy’s heartfelt testimony before her board of education meeting, it begins at 16:25.

1 thought on “The Relentless School Nurse: A Heartfelt Retirement Speech With an Advocacy Message”

  1. Congratulations to Kathy McCutcheon, MSN, RN, NCSN for her incredible service to children, families and communities. I can’t wait to hear about her continued activism going forward supporting the health and well-being of the families in her community, state and country.

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