Annie Jenkins reveals how school nurses work to prevent illness and how she is making a difference
School nursing - that’s just sitting in a school office, barely being disturbed except to administer the odd paracetamol or letting someone lie down in your room when they feel a bit under the weather. Isn’t it?
Annie Jenkins, senior school health nurse and practitioner, has been school nursing for 11 years and says her day job is far removed from people’s perception of an easy working life that ends when the school bell chimes at 3pm.
“No one understands what we do,” she says. “It is a misunderstood part of the profession. People have completely the wrong idea.”
Contrary to popular belief, there often isn’t a nurse permanently based in each school - although there used to be. Instead nurses work in teams to cover several schools. They frequently attend multiagency meetings to plan the best and most-effective health interventions for children to improve public health at an early age, and are also involved in safeguarding.
“We are the interface between health, schools and other agencies, such as children and young people’s services,” Ms Jenkins says.
But she is keen to stress that it’s not all bureaucracy - and what she loves about the role is face-to-face nursing.
“Quite often we are the first port of call for children and their parents. The role is about preventing problems and working as a team,” she says.
“I started off in paediatric nursing in a children’s hospital and I always wanted to get into community services. No one wanted to leave school nursing though so it was hard to find a position,” she adds.
But she persevered, and 11 years ago she landed her first school-nursing post.
The long time she spent in acute services before moving to community, renders her sympathetic to those who don’t understand the role.
“One of the things that stuck with me when I moved from acute to community is how ignorant I was about people’s lives,” she says.
“You see people in hospital and it’s only a snapshot. In this job you see the whole person, you talk to other agencies and you feel you make a real difference.”
Ms Jenkins says the role is predominantly about providing mental-health and emotional support, as well as drop-in centres for children of secondary-school age. Pupils are given help or advice, and can be signposted or referred to other services, such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service or a consultant paediatrician.
“We see a lot of emotional and behavioural issues, as well as toileting issues for younger children. Nurses can get a lot of requests for contraceptive or sexual-health issues, although in my area there is a good Brook service.”
And it’s not just the children that school nurses help - they also provide a lot of input for parents, frequently signposting them to parenting groups.
“Just one contact is enough to make a difference,” she says. “And you can help so many people. I’ve helped children with anxieties be strong enough to take exams and helped another with her weight or supported her to manage bullying.”
Ms Jenkins says the job “can be rewarding, but also challenging and sometimes frustrating too”.
She says working in the community gives nurses a view of people’s lives and an opportunity to help and support children and their families at an early point and really make a difference. However, she adds: “Where we struggle is with evidence of that. Getting evidence of the important outcomes we deliver for children is what I want for the future
of school nursing.”
Despite this, she says:
“I feel I’m making a difference and no two days are the same. I’m involved in promoting good health and, rather than being involved with people who are really sick, you are giving them the tools to choose a lifestyle to help prevent some of the illnesses and conditions that could impact negatively on their lives later on. That’s powerful.”