Bridget Heroff on the fluctuating role of the school nurse.

Bridget Heroff MSN, RN, PEL-CSN, has worked in the field of Pediatric nursing for nearly 15 years. A year into attending St. Norbert College for a degree in Fine Arts and Communications, Heroff opted instead to pursue nursing. Heroff explains, “During the first couple of weeks of my first year of college, 9/11 happened. So after that, everything kind of changed.  Looking ahead to the future, being an art major didn’t seem like it was probably the best plan anymore. I was also in the pediatric intensive care unit for a couple of nights when I was in high school due to a non-cancerous brain tumor, and I had some great people who took care of me. Ultimately, I decided to switch schools and go into nursing.”  

After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree from Lewis University in 2007, Heroff worked in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital for six years. In 2013, she received her Master’s in Nursing Education from Benedictine University before spending several years as a visiting professor for various institutions. Ultimately, an assignment at Chamberlain College of Nursing in Roundlake led her to a permanent position as the building nurse for Magee Middle School in 2015. She transitioned to the Lead Nurse Role for the Round Lake Area School District in 2017, after receiving her Professional Educator License with a School Nurse endorsement.

In 2019, she was selected as one of Illinois Nursing Foundation’s 40 under 40 Emerging Nurse Leaders, which she describes as an incredible and humbling experience. “I think sometimes, school nursing isn’t widely understood. And the key role that the nurse plays within the school community, and how that role affects the students’ education throughout their academic career, isn’t always recognized. So being able to bring a little more presence to that role was really nice.”

Back to school

Adding to the stress of what are already uncertain times, a school nurse’s role seems to be ever-changing. “The hard part is that there’s nothing consistent across the state or country in terms of what school nurses are responsible for. So it’s been a huge challenge because our guidelines are constantly changing, and everything is fluid. We may have guidelines from a week ago that have since been replaced by something totally different.” 

Many school nurses are now being tasked with reporting data that could be vital to understanding trends in how the COVID-19 virus is spreading. Heroff’s district is currently limited to virtual learning, so the nurses are not being utilized in this capacity. Still, they have completed a free course through Chamberlain College on becoming a contact tracer, should the need arise in the future. However, Heroff believes such a task would be difficult for a school nurse to perform due to privacy concerns. “There is a lot of concern within school districts related to contact tracing regarding staff employees. Outside of the hospital setting, our privacy guidelines are a little bit different. We tend to follow FERPA, the education privacy laws, more than HIPAA, which is typically associated with health care. There’s a concern, especially with teachers’ unions, about school nurses having too much access to staff members’ health information. So most contact tracing and things along those lines are going through HR instead of nurses.”

One thing that remains unchanged is Illinois’ commitment to the standard school health requirements. “IDPH, the Illinois Department of Public Health, still wants students to maintain immunizations and other physical requirements, so we’ve been doing a lot of outreach to families regarding that. We’re fortunate to have a School Health Center on our high school campus, run by Lake County Health Department. So as of right now, we are seeing well students from our district and providing immunization services, which has been a big help.” 

The value of support

Heroff stresses the importance of support, both in your personal network, and through organizations like ANA-Illinois. In addition to being an ANA-Illinois member, Heroff is currently the Marketing and Communications Coordinator on IASN’s Board of Directors and is set to begin a 2-year term as President-Elect in October. “I advocate for all school nurses to join IASN because it is a great resource for the information that you need as a school nurse but also offers great networking. School nursing can be very isolating, especially if you work in a single school in its own district and don’t have other nurses around for support. Being able to network with others in similar situations to your own to bounce ideas off one another is huge.”

Heroff says IASN has been working closely with ANA-IL, “We are expanding our relationship, and it’s just been really great to partner with them. I feel like it has brought school nurses a lot more resources and opportunities that maybe we didn’t have in the past. And certainly now, during these times, has been a huge help.”

IASN’s Annual Conference, being held virtually on October 2nd-3rd, will feature a panel of speakers covering various topics, including a few related to Covid. “We find that school nurses, much like other health care professionals, crave knowledge and an understanding of what’s going on, so they can figure out how to best advocate for those they’re serving.”

Advice to fellow school nurses moving forward

“Given the nature of Covid, we’re going to have to be able to adapt and roll with the punches and constant changes. Be that positive role model in the school nursing setting and demonstrate why school nurses are important and how we can help in a situation like this. I think the best chances school districts have of safely reopening is definitely going to include the school nurse on the planning committee because they bring that medical insightfulness that is sometimes missing in the education world.”