Health matters

School nurses provide range of services for students, community

Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Hospital clean meets bedroom cozy. That's Bekkie Jackson's office.

The Sears Elementary School nurse spends her days in a bright, sterile room surrounded by the typical health care furnishings, from the handy medical supply dispensers hanging over the sink to the eye chart and scale to the twin cots for ill students.

But the room also is full of her own touches, like the comfortable blankets on each bed, dolls and childrens books on the table tops and a jar of "emergency lunchtime pills" -- jelly beans -- for students with recess bumps and bruises.

The jar is sure to see plenty of use, as Jackson's primary role as nurse at the kindergarten through second-grade school is attending to first aid and other injury and illness assessments.

But Jackson's job also involves far more than sticking on Band-aids or applying ice packs to kids' minor ouchies.

A registered nurse who spent the first 15 years of her career in hospitals, Jackson has been a school nurse with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District since 1984.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is celebrating School Nurses Day today. Stop by a school and say thanks to one of the many professionals who take care of the peninsula's students

In that time, she said, she's seen the role of school nurses change a lot.

"Some changes involve the types of medical conditions kids come to school with," she said.

In fact, unlike some nurses in the district, Jackson is assigned to only one school, and that's because a number of students have health conditions severe enough to require a full-time medical professional on the grounds.

They have needs like oxygen tanks, diabetes treatments and prompt allergy response, Jackson said.

"Students with some of these problems wouldn't have been in school before," she said.

Schools also are dealing with more social needs these days, she said.

"That's always a great concern to me," Jackson said. She is responsible for referring families in need to resources to help their families. She also helps coordinate programs that allow the school to give some families clothes, food or even money for medical care.

"We certainly try to be sensitive to those things," she said.

Then there are the state-mandated parts of her job. She has to keep a detailed record of student immunizations and monitor communicable diseases, such as strep throat, conjunctivitis or viral illnesses.

She also conducts annual student screening, checking each child for health conditions that could impair their learning by testing for hearing and vision difficulties and tuberculosis.

And, she is the health reference person for the school's staff, as well, providing workers' compensation claim follow-ups and training in first aid, CPR and blood-borne illnesses to teachers.

She also has run teen substance abuse prevention programs for parents and coordinated a teen pregnancy support group when she worked at the high school level.

Though the job involves a lot, Jackson said she enjoys it.

"I think I'm the kind of person who feels a need to help somebody," Jackson said. "Whether in school nursing or any other aspect of life, I like to help."

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