My Experience of the Importance of Continuing School Nurse Education
Following my attendance at the NASN Conference last June in Baltimore, I have been asked to share some thoughts about why I feel continuing nursing education is so important. To share my ideas, I will use what I learned from the conference keynote speaker, Terri Sjodin, author of Small Message, Big Impact. Terri shared many hints to make our message heard; among them that we must focus on the truth in our message, and that it’s important to add a flourish; something funny, serious, or heartfelt that will make our statement memorable - so here goes:
“I hold this school nurse truth to be self-evident; that continuing school education is essential for school nurse practice excellence, and for the school nurse’s pursuit of happiness.” In my experience, I find that most school nurses do agree that the importance of continuing school nurse education is “self-evident” and can only help us stay up to date and improve our practice. We only have to look at diabetic management and how it is constantly changing to realize how important it is to keep up to date through attendance and participation at conferences. After all, education (the sessions) are what we go to conferences for, right?
What I don’t hear a lot about is how having the support and connection with colleagues can help our pursuit of professional satisfaction, so I want to spend a few minutes talking about how continuing school nurse education can increase our happiness. I have heard some people downplay the importance of the social aspects of NASN conferences. People tend to focus on the sessions as being the most important part of the conferences. These comments sometimes trivialize getting together and sharing a meal or attending a social event. I would argue that the knowledge gained while socializing and discussing topics with school nurses from around the country has been one of the most important things I have gotten out of conferences. The Director of School Health Services where I work (who is not a nurse but also attended the conference) was able to see that as well. After only a few sessions he emphatically told me, “More school nurses have to come to these conferences.” He said the impact of spending time relaxing with other school nurses in reflection of the past year can only make for better and happier school nurses. He didn’t mention much about the educational sessions. He saw the value of being present at the yearly NASN conference, and has arranged for more of our school nurses to come to conference. Making personal connections, feeling the support of other nursing professionals, and building our professional confidence can definitely elevate our happiness and our practice. If you haven’t been to a national conference, you can’t imagine how empowering it is having over 2,000 school nurses together. That kind of empowerment and enjoyment not only helps us be undefeatable, but energizes us to show our students how to be successful and undefeated as well.
This leads to my next point: Invictus - Latin for undefeatable. The poem with the same name, by William Henley is about remaining steadfast, resilient, and holding on to what we know is true: “unbowed” using all our strength to do what we know is right, regardless of how difficult the situation may be. This is a big part of what we do for our students, whether we realize it or not. There’s a good example of this in the movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, which shows how Nelson Mandela used Rugby to unite a horribly divided post-apartheid South Africa. Rugby may not be the first thing you think of to inspire political unity and economic success of a country, just like school nursing may not be the first thing most might think of to inspire the educational success of our students. Nelson Mandela’s genius was knowing how crucial rugby could be to South Africa’s success. There were players on the Rugby team who were put off by attempts to get them to be more than they thought they could be. They said, “We don’t have time for this! Besides, we just play rugby; we are not ambassadors!” To be honest, some of us nurses (like some of the rugby players) think of ourselves the same way - “No way do we have time for this! It’s too much, we’re just school nurses, we can’t do all that!” Morgan Freeman gives Matt Damon the poem “Invictus” to inspire and motivate the rugby team and South Africa as well. That is the same kind of inspiration we can and need to offer our students. What will help us do that? Just like the rugby team, working together, helping each other, and realizing you are “unconquerable” will help show your students they are unconquerable as well. You get that type of professional resiliency and strength through participation in NASN and OSNA Conferences.
It is true, each school and each school nurse assignment is unique, and not all have the same depth of challenges, but we need conferences and networking in order to be more than we can each be on our own. My students need me to recharge at conferences to be the best school nurse I can be so that they too can realize they are “unconquerable.”