The division added clinic assistants in the fall of 2021 after schools fully reopened on a traditional five-day schedule. With children returning to the classroom this year, clinic visits have ballooned. The clinic assistants are instrumental in keeping the clinic flowing and providing a safe environment for all children. Nancy Cowan, the nurse at Hardy Elementary, shared how there are challenges when numerous students needing immediate attention visit the clinic simultaneously. “My assistant, Christina Otte, has been a blessing. The safety of the clinic has improved by having her helping out,” said Cowan. Tracy Stalls, the nurse at Carrollton Elementary, echoed the feelings of Cowan. Stalls noted how her assistant, Jackie True, can attend to students and provide basic first aid, such as band aids and ice packs, when Stalls is tending to students with specific needs, such as those requiring insulin.
Often times nurses are pulled to handle emergencies throughout the school, which in the past would result in the clinic having to close to other students. The new position allows for the clinic to stay open to attend to the continuing needs of children while the nurse is elsewhere. “We had a student fracture their arm on the playground,” said Jessica Futrell, the nurse at Windsor Elementary. “I was with them for over an hour providing care while waiting for him to be transported to a medical facility. In the past, the clinic would have been closed. Now, students are able to still visit the clinic and have their needs addressed in my absence by my assistant, Tykeko Jackson.” Nursing supervisor LaDona Roddy shared that clinics have experienced staffing shortages but the clinic assistant has been able to continue daily operations when the nurse was not present. The clinic assistants take the burden off the building principals and office staff by serving as a well-trained member of the health care team who performs clinic tasks on a daily basis.
Smithfield Middle’s nurse, Michelle Harris, noted that her assistant, Angela Griffin, has a Clinical Nursing Assistant (CNA) background, which allows Griffin to provide an even a higher level of care to students. But the greatest benefit by far has been the additional set of hands to aid the nurses with the sheer number of students they are seeing on a daily basis. Shea Pugh, nurse at Windsor High, shared how her assistant, Jessica Duck, is an extension of the school nurse. “They are trained to provide basic care for students and respond to health questions from parents. They step up every day,” said Pugh. Duck was a stay-at-home mom who loves working with children. She earned her CNA in high school and is now hoping to go to college to pursue a career in nursing. Like Duck, the clinic assistant at Smithfield High, Estefania Williams, was also a stay-at-home mom. She knew the schools were overwhelmed this year with health care issues. “I wanted to help out,” said Williams. “We do a great job as a team and I really enjoy what I’m doing.”
Several other clinic assistants were already familiar faces around their schools. Jackie True at Carrollton Elementary was an administrative associate in the main office. When the new position was advertised, she felt called to the role after a health issue in her family. “I love working more directly with the students and parents. I’m glad I can provide parents the support they need for their child’s health and well-being,” said True. Nancy Cutchin was an Instructional Assistant at Carrsville Elementary School before becoming a clinic assist, serving both Georgie Tyler Middle School, where she works with nurse Stephanie Marshall, and Carrsville Elementary. Cutchin was praised by Kim Steele, the nurse at Carrsville, for her ability to offer clear guidance along with compassion and understanding to parents in these trying times. “Right now, our parents need kind and loving support,” said Steele.
As nurses and the clinic assistants discussed their working situation, many mentioned the benefits of being a team. Schools throughout the division only had a single nurse to support the entire student population. The position was often a solitary one. Until this year, only the Westside Elementary nurse, Terrah Abbey, and her nursing assistant, Anya Kosteczko, experienced a team approach, which was implemented to address the needs of the medically fragile children in their school. Now, all nurses in Isle of Wight County have a dedicated partner to join them in their goal of providing for the health of every child.
Repeatedly the nurses stressed the benefits of the clinic assistants, not just directly for themselves, but for students and parents. Increased communication with parents related to COVID has been vital for keeping families informed. Contact tracing is an important procedure to limit the spread of the virus in schools, but the process is time consuming. Then there is the support for traditional bumps, bruises, medications, and illnesses. The teamwork of the nurses and the clinic assistants keeps the health and safety of all students a priority. As Cowan, the nurse at Hardy stated to the assistants,” Please know you have come at a crucial time in the lives of the public school.” Looking beyond the crisis, the clinic assistant position will continue to serve a critical role in the safety and wellbeing of our students.