School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Maine’s School Nurse of the Year is Judy Doran!

School nurses, let’s celebrate our successes out loud! Today it’s Judy Doran’s turn. She is the Maine School Nurse of the Year. In the world of school nursing, there are those who truly stand out for their incredible dedication and leadership. One such standout is Judy. With years of experience under her belt, Judy has become known for her unwavering commitment to her role as a school nurse, especially during the pandemic. Her colleagues greatly appreciate her down-to-earth approach, as well as her ability to work hand-in-hand with others. Judy’s solid grasp of what works best in the field, along with her friendly and approachable nature, has earned her respect not just within her team, but also in the wider school nursing community.

Let’s celebrate Judy Doran’s remarkable contributions to the world of school nursing and the positive impact she continues to make on the Maine community. Judy graciously agreed to share her acceptance speech in its entirety which is printed below. Her message is filled with nuggets of brilliance, wise counsel, and deep reflections on decades of nursing practice. 

…collectively as school nurses we demonstrated with high visibility our capacity, our competency, our compassion, and our grit and I’m encouraging you all to continue to practice deliberately and boldly and build on the very solid footing we’ve established. 

My name is Judy Doran and I am honored to be here.

I know I’m in very good company because most of you have been SON for the past 2 years and I just want to say Hats Off, thank you, and wow, way to hang in there!!!!!

For the new folks in the room, welcome and congratulations on your new career path. I think you’ve just entered a nursing specialty that often lives pretty solidly in the grey area. I’ll get back to that but for now, a huge welcome to you, and THANK YOU for taking this responsibility on.

So why am I really here? I was kind of trying to slow down a little bit, ease out of this role, regroup, get well. You will probably not be surprised that there really is no such thing as a part-time job in school health. I’ve been trying for about a year now without much luck but I can tell you that  I’m really looking forward to the day that I can take my place on the sub list.  I have had the enormously good luck and professional honor to work with a group of nurses who I consider to be top-notch practitioners of school nursing and very good friends. They had the faith in me to nominate me for this and to them I say this, “there is absolutely not a chance I could have shined without their hard work, dedication, support, integrity, smarts, and grit. None. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

My first reaction to this honor was definitely within the confines of imposter syndrome. Then my friend sent me the video by Reshma who talks about being brave, about structural inequality rather than individual inadequacy being the problem. Why am I mentioning this right now? Because collectively as school nurses we demonstrated with high visibility our capacity, our competency, our compassion, and our grit and I’m encouraging you all to continue to practice deliberately and boldly and build on the very solid footing we’ve established. 

You may have a couple hundred or a couple thousand students. You might be in one school or several. You have entered a social contract to assume the responsibility of OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN. That is a very big deal. You might have approached it as a pretty good job with an awesome schedule that aligns with your family’s but what you’re really doing cannot be understated. 

When I was brand new I spoke before the board and I remember saying that nothing specifically and everything broadly in my previous nursing career had prepared me for this role. I still believe that. I’ve reflected on that a lot recently as I’ve been orienting two new brilliant FT RNs and one sub. I think I was more nervous than they were because I was wondering how on EARTH could I prepare them, accomplished, experienced hospital RNs. How in the world could I make sense of school health in a pinch in the chaos of September?

How could I do that without sounding like a scattered idiot or scaring them away.? (Lynne’s Day in the Life poem has been swirling through my head….I actually gave it to the new folks) I think we’re doing ok but they will be the judge of that. Anyhow, it has occurred to me during this process that the last pre-pandemic orientation I did was eight years ago and the complexity of the role has increased. By a lot. I remember blathering to a trusted colleague, “This ain’t your mother’s health office and I’m old enough to be the mother!!!”

The basics are still there of course. But our society has evolved, our expectations of schools have evolved, our capacity to care for increasingly complex medical conditions has evolved, mental health needs have evolved, social norms have evolved, WE have evolved. We went head-on into a global pandemic and basically said, “alright gang, we ride at dawn”.  We didn’t know the virus but we did know the public health measures that we needed to implement, educate everybody about, support, and somehow enforce. Rinse, wash, repeat. It was brutal. It was not pretty. There was a lot of collateral damage. There is much to be proud of though. You managed the often times unmanageable with finesse and professionalism and I am proud of all of us and I thank you again. 

And if you ever write about that experience (or any school nursing experience) please don’t say…….it’s not just bandaids and ice packs anymore because it never was.

We still meet weekly because we love each other……amazing. In the middle of the unmentionable in 2020 I wound up with a poorly timed diagnosis and thanks to a supportive administration and covid funds I was able to continue to work from home. I’m getting some treatment, and got back in the game, Covid is whatever it is and my plan was to quietly make it part-time to December when I could officially retire and join the sub pool. Let my NCSN lapse, the works. Just like there is no “typical day” in your office, I’m finding there’s no typical trajectory…… I was planning on a fairly chill fall and instead, I’m running like a one-armed paper hanger with the rest of you. 

What are some of my favorite things about this career? Hands down it’s the relationships that develop. When the kid who visited way too often finally realizes they don’t need to be sick to enter for a minute’s respite. Just knowing you occupy and offer a safe place feels good. I cherish the  Nurse Judy sign a 7th grader hand carved for me out of pressure-treated wood years ago (I always wondered about the arsenic he exposed himself for that).  The laughs were some of the best.  And could we please collaborate on the “you can’t make this stuff up a list?”. Just the other day one of our colleagues had 13 bee stings on 10 children, on Epi-pen (unknown allergy), and a trip to the ER all before 0925. Two days later another colleague had a snake bite on the playground. What kind of snake? IDK the witnesses are all five-year-olds. I had a burly senior come in the other day and help himself to a bandaid. He looked out under his bangs and said, I remember you from the MS, I’m so sorry I was such an A-hole”. I replied honestly that he never was to me, not once.  He beamed and said, “OK good, at least I got something right there.” 

I’m probably getting too long-winded now but I want to say something about boundaries…..make them, stick to them, and protect thyself. Respect thyself. The reality is, you cannot be everything to everybody every day all the time in this role. Can’t be done. Just getting the baseline work done is a challenge and if you’re sitting here now I know that none of you stop at the baseline. There are so many issues facing us today, big ones. Gun violence, substance use, opiates, fentanyl, commercial sexual exploitation of children, skyrocketing mental health concerns in children and families, poor attendance, food insecurity, and unhoused families. That’s without even stepping foot outside of Maine, outside of our communities honestly. There are national and global issues; wars, fear, violence, climate, uncertainty, bigotry, racism All of it makes its way into communities and schools.  Where do you even start? Reflect on cultural humility. And then my best advice is to learn about them all. If you are extra passionate about one and want to commit more time, PLEASE DO! You don’t need to be an expert,  just having an awareness, picking up signs, and running it by school colleagues, MASN, NASN, the bus driver, and the lunch lady goes a long way.

Trust your gut. Remember, we interact with the majority of school-aged people in our neck of the woods and if we don’t see them we start asking why.  Have you ever seen that quote……..something like….nurses are like icebergs… any given time you’re only seeing about ⅕ of what they’re actually doing. That’s your vibe every day….. Synthesizing, sorting, and prioritizing a zillion pieces of information. amazing and inspiring that you all have the energy to get out for this on a rainy Saturday in Bangor.  Boundaries, remember them. Respect them. 

I’ve always believed in the privilege of nursing. Sometimes in the buzz/grind of the health office, you can forget that. Cherish the smiles, disconnect the abusive caller on the phone, and practice as you ARE the medical expert in this environment. Model it. You ARE. You ARE the Chief Wellness Officer.  Rely on trusted folks in this organization and nationally. Ask the question, why not? Offer solutions. Trust your gut. Rely on the decision tree (I LOVE that document). And by the number of 1:1 school nurse jobs I’ve seen posted, I’m thinking a lot of you have taken up referencing it. Excellent job! 

I’m having a hard time wrapping this up……..much like the feeling I’m having while unexpectedly orienting folks in the middle of September. Some of you know I really don’t do well with public speaking…..give me a pen and I’m all set, but speaking is a challenge for me. So right now I’m feeling like there’s a lot more to say but whoa, how do you fit it all in?. So here I’m just going to ask you to reflect on the privilege of nursing, the real deal bottom line human part. Skip the to-do lists and deadlines for a minute. Think about who you are, where you are, why you’re there, and the profound impact you have on the lives of so many people. It is a privilege. This is a privilege. Thanks for honoring me. I honor all of you and wish you the very best on your paths to one of the most important jobs in the world. 

Thank you, Judy



4 thoughts on “The Relentless School Nurse: Maine’s School Nurse of the Year is Judy Doran!”

  1. Wow, thank you Robin and thank you all who took the time and effort for this recognition and celebration! Want to know what Robin’s secret weapon is?……..she has this incredible capacity to lift and celebrate all of us with her words and steadfast determination. Nobody here is operating in a vacuum, so HATS OFF to you all, to everybody I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and to the many I have not. And thanks again Robin for lifting us all always!

    1. Thank you Judy for your generosity of spirit and words of encouragement. Kudos to well-deserved honor.

  2. Wow, could not have said it better Judy Duran. It is (or was for me now) a privilege and an honor to sit beside students, parents, and colleagues and have the privilege and honor to listen and support or effect change in a person’s life and well being. You rock!

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