Cyber School Nurses: The Calling
Apr 30, 2021
PA Cyber school nurse Dana Marquis, RN, likes that every day at work is different for her. Her duties include performing screenings, tracking immunizations, providing ongoing communication with parents and students, and identifying students who are at risk for certain health issues. She and Elissa Wilson, RN, tend to over 11,000 online students around the state. They may not get to see students in person very often, but they still take appropriate preventative measures and make sure students are healthy.
"We are very busy. We have to be organized to stay on top of things, especially with that many students," says Marquis.
Marquis started with PA Cyber in 2003, three years after PA Cyber was founded. "I knew from the start that I wanted to go into school nursing," she says. She began as a nurse for Tri State Pediatric Associates and Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and then subbed as a school nurse on the side before becoming one full time with PA Cyber.
Wilson joined PA Cyber in 2020. Previously, she was a nurse for high-risk pregnant mothers and then a substitute school nurse. She explains one of the key challenges of the school nurse role: "You have to know when to ask others for help if you don't know the right answer. If a student contacts us for assistance, we can reach out to the guidance counselors and teachers to make sure they're getting what they need."
Importance of Health Screenings
All public schools, whether traditional or cyber, are required by the state to provide health screenings and exams for students. Marquis and Wilson travel to PA Cyber's nine regional offices to conduct screenings for height, weight, vision, hearing, and scoliosis. Alternatively, parents can have a child's doctor perform screenings at their own expense.
The nurses do not just perform health screenings because it is state mandated. It's all about prevention. "We're looking for anything that could potentially be interfering with their education," says Marquis.
In one screening, Marquis discovered a student had scoliosis. The student's mother always thought her daughter slouched. When she took her daughter to the specialist after the screening, they learned that the student had a severe form of scoliosis and needed surgery immediately.
"We want our students to be healthy," says Marquis. "We may not see them physically on a day-to-day basis, but we're still doing those health screenings and taking preventative measures. That's why we go into nursing in the first place, to help and serve people."
Besides health screenings, the nurses also report 504 plans (educational plans with a medical component), Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs), and certain student conditions to the state. For example, students with concussions often have 504 plans, and the nurses make sure those students improve in an appropriate amount of time. This year they are tracking about 700 students who have active 504s.
Pivoting in a Pandemic
The nurses have stayed current on COVID-19 and vaccine information as well as CDC guidelines so they can advocate for employees' and student families' health. They listen to employees' concerns surrounding the virus and have open conversations with them.
As a silver lining of the pandemic, the Health Office staff discovered that they can function electronically. Previously, all their records were stored in rows of filing cabinets, and staff have been scanning records steadily and adding them to the new computerized system. "Organizing, documenting, and filing all the daily paperwork was a huge task," says Marquis. "We still have a long way to go because we have so many records, but it will pay off."
Marquis and Wilson support PA Cyber's employees by organizing flu shot clinics around the state and teaching them first aid and CPR. They train staff who oversee PSSA and Keystone testing sites to handle emergency situations like seizures and anaphylaxis.
The Health Office has come a long way since the early days when PA Cyber was the first cyber school in the state and staff had to figure out how cyber nursing is done. "It was rough, but we got through it," says Marquis.
Wilson likes that nurses have autonomy. "They can make decisions and perform screenings without someone saying 'yes, this is right, or no, this is wrong,'" she says. But it's also more than that. When asked why she does what she does, she says, "It's the calling."
Jennie Harris / email@example.com
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.