Upon assuming the role of school health coordinator for Children's Nebraska in Omaha, Kimberly McClintick crisscrossed the state to meet with more than a dozen school nurses from every corner of Nebraska. Her goal was to understand the needs and priorities of the nurses and how Children’s may be able to help.
She returned from her statewide tour with one key takeaway. “I kept hearing a very specific theme during my travels,” says McClintick, MSN, RN. “It was that they feel very much alone.”
Several nurses McClintick visited were the only school nurse in their entire rural district. Others were responsible for multiple school districts, spanning vast areas. In many cases, these health care providers were new to the job. “I can only imagine how frightening it must be to be brand new in the school nursing environment and have no one to turn to if you need help or guidance,” McClintick says.
Outreach sparks mentor program
To address those issues, McClintick and her team created the Nebraska School Nurse Mentor Program. Launched in the 2020-21 school year, the initiative aims to provide school nurses who have less than two years of experience with the support and guidance needed to succeed in their roles. Children’s pairs mentor nurses who have more than five years of experience working in schools with mentees based on proximity and similarities among their school districts. In its first year, nearly half of eligible mentees in Nebraska enrolled in the school nurse mentoring program.
McClintick provides the mentor with about 15 topics to cover with their mentee, including managing their day and setting up their health office, medication policies, back-to-school timelines and responsibilities. It also allows flexibility for the mentee to rely upon the mentor’s expertise for any questions or ad hoc situations that arise.
Children’s surveys all participants at the end of the school year to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and inform any tweaks to its structure. McClintick says the feedback from both sides of the mentor relationship has been very positive: the survey results show 76% of mentees have reported a notable increase in their confidence and proficiency.
Assign pairings carefully
While it may not be necessary to log the highway miles that McClintick did, she says it’s important to fully research what your school nurses need. Crucial to the program’s success, she adds, is devoting extra attention to your mentor/mentee matches.
“You should really be intentional about pairing nurses who have similar environments—the number of students in their care, rural or metro, private or public schools,” McClintick says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about that relationship, and the stronger that bond is the more everyone gets out of the program.”
Reviews by school nurses
“My admin was getting nervous about the number of students out sick. I didn't think closing school at that point was the right decision, but I was unsure until talking to my mentor with 20 years of experience. She assured me I was leading/advising my admin correctly. I really needed that collaboration to give me confidence.”
“My mentee was struggling with getting support from administration on requiring yearly training for field trips. After talking it over, we were able to structure what to say to her administration regarding training and requiring signatures of staff for proof of training.”
“My mentee was able to come to my school and spend a day with me. She went through my policy and procedure book, and we discussed her responsibilities for daily, weekly, and monthly intervals. I was able to organize several things for her, so she does not feel so overwhelmed. And she knows I am only a keystroke or phone call away.”