Natasha Williams’s nursing career has spanned more than 30 years and three continents. She has crisscrossed the country caring for patients from infants to the elderly. Her husband’s military career took the family to California, Japan, England, Oklahoma and Washington State. Williams’s nursing skills translate and were in demand wherever they were stationed.
When they moved to Maryland, Williams clocked five years at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton working in the dialysis unit and as a night nurse administrator. For the past 13 years she’s been catering to a specific clientele — the students and staff of Benjamin Stoddert Middle School.
There is no average day as a nurse, Williams said. “It’s always different,” she said. “It’s not the ER, but the flavor of it is the same. You’re always doing something different.”
Middle school students “are too old to be young, and too young to be old,” Williams said. They have a lot of questions, and Williams tries to have the answers when it comes to their health. “I can do a lot of educating,” she said. “There is a lot of decision making at this age.”
School nurses keep track of maintenance medications — Stoddert has 109 asthmatics, 14 students who get migraines, seven who have seizures — there are kids with food allergies, Life Skills students who need daily medical services, some students have cardiac issues and others have a prescription for ADHD. Williams sees them all.
Then there are the “walk ins” — run-of-the-mill headaches, sore throats, menstrual cramps and anything else that can bring a student to the nurse’s office. School nurses aren’t limited to seeing students. Williams gives out Band-Aids to teachers and there is a stash of Tylenol and other over-the-counter medications in her office for staff in need. Williams is also there to answer questions and give advice. “School nurses minister to the medical, and to the mental [wellbeing],” Williams said.
There can be cycles, too. The flu can zip through a school; allergy season can usher in an uptick of students to Lisa Bazzarre’s office at North Point High School. During a recent morning, kids dropped in to test their blood sugar, calling out their levels to Bazzarre, who jotted them down in her ledger. A football player requested an icepack for his knee that’s been acting up, another student took allergy medication before coming to school, but his head and throat were still bothering him.
Bazzarre buzzed around her office, putting together an icepack for junior Stefon Middleton. Then she leafed through a medical book, showing sophomore Tamari Simms why he might have a headache. “Those are your sinuses,” she pointed out. “But a cold is going around. The first four, five days of a cold are the worst.”
Some days are more interesting than others — like the time a kid lost the tip of his finger by smacking a basketball net. Teeth get knocked out in gym class by accident, there are concussions and injuries that students suffer outside of school. They visit Bazzarre to figure out what’s going on. “You have to be a little bit of a detective sometimes,” she said.
The school nurse program was piloted during the 1996-97 school year at Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School. The following year, 26 nurses covered 31 school sites. By 2000, all schools and centers in CCPS had a school nurse, said Karen Grace, Charles County School Health Program manager.