A day in the life of a school nurse

A school's main caregiver has you covered, from boo-boos to bad days

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RICHMOND, Mass. — Matthew Peck is in tears at the Richmond Consolidated School nurse's office on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 5; he has a splinter in his big toe.

The slim protrusion isn't in very deep. School nurse Cristina Lenfest could easily remove it — if Matthew would just let her try again.

How he got it is a mystery, but that doesn't matter at the moment. The boy, a first grader, is afraid removing the splinter will hurt.

He gave her one shot at it, but Lenfest was not able to fully grip the splinter.

Matthew goes back to class, but returns in an hour not feeling well. He's back again just before lunch, this time, to get the splinter out.

In some cynical circles, Matthew might be called a "frequent flyer," someone who uses a service more often than others. But treating Matthew was one of Lenfest's favorite parts of the day. She likes being able to provide comfort to students whatever their needs may be. The role of the school nurse has expanded beyond simply applying Band-Aids to supporting a child's total health, the physical and the emotional.

"Students that come to me repeatedly, whether or not they're in physical pain, or maybe they need a break from the classroom for a social/emotional reason, my goal is to get them back in the class to learn," said Lenfest, "but it always depends on each student's needs."

To relax Matthew to a point where Lenfest could pull the splinter, she sits Matthew down and lets him touch the splinter and the tweezers she's using to remove it. She has him hold a stuffed animal.

Still, he doesn't let her remove it.

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Lenfest said Matthew's splinter was minor, otherwise she would have been more insistent about removing it the first time.

"My favorite part of today is providing comfort to the students, for the kids that need it, that need the reassurance that I have the ability to make them feel safe and make them feel cared for and loved," Lenfest said.

Taking care of business, from earaches to EpiPens

Lenfest, 39, has been a school nurse for a little over four years. She said she loves how the job combines her interests in science and children. Lenfest is a registered nurse, has a bachelor of science degree in, is licensed by the state to work as a school nurse and belongs to several national and state professional organizations.

She says 70 percent of her job is what people would expect from a school nurse's role, like dealing with sick and bruised kids and teaching health classes. Sometimes, there are surprises — like the time a student came in with ear pain and Lenfest removed a cricket from the girl's ear. Then there was the time she spent what seemed like forever searching for a student's lost tooth in the snow — he was distraught that without it, the Tooth Fairy would skip his home. (They didn't find the tooth, but the Tooth Fairy still found a way to give the boy a reward.)

The rest of the job is work done behind the scenes. School nurses have to attend to the physical and emotional needs of students in school — sometimes by connecting them with services outside of school — while also providing health education to staff and members of the school community.

School nurses are responsible for emergency planning; administrative paperwork; medication permitting; conducting hearing, seeing and body mass index screenings; maintaining student immunization and medical history documents; EpiPen maintenance; training staff in emergency responses such as how to use EpiPens, provide CPR, etc.; identifying potential behavioral problems, and keeping up-to-date on changes in the medical field.

"I have kids in the building with seizures, diabetes, allergies, asthma and then there's the social-emotional component and then plenty of students coming to see me with with a loose tooth," Lenfest said. "Whether they need a hug or more serious treatment, I like being there for them."

Kristin Palpini is a reporter with The Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.


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