By Lucy M. Pritchett

Julie Collings discovered that being a school nurse involves much more than taking temperatures and dispensing bandages.

Julie began her nursing career as a staff nurse working in transitional care with Norton Hospital and then went on to become an outpatient surgery pre-op nurse. That was when Julie’s mother, who works in student services for the New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, suggested that she become a substitute school nurse. Julie jumped at the chance.

“I was a single mom and was hoping to get my foot in the door with the schools. The driving force was to get a job with teachers’ hours so I could be on my son’s schedule. After one year as a substitute, I was offered a full-time position.”

Now, Julie has been a school nurse with the New Albany Floyd County schools for 25 years, long enough to see her four children graduate from high school. She earned a bachelor of science in nursing from Bellarmine College (now University) in Louisville and was in the first graduating class of its four-year nursing program. Over the years she has accumulated a pocket full of certifications and credentials.

“Being a school nurse is so different from bedside nursing. I’m working with the whole child, which sometimes includes their families. At times, I am dealing directly with the students. I also answer staff members’ questions concerning student medical care. I cover three elementary schools — about 1,400 students — and make my own schedule every week. I try to balance the time within each school as far as seeing students, answering questions, and training staff — bus drivers, teachers, aides, and administrative personnel.”

Photos by Patti Hartog 

The students present more than colds and upset stomachs, Julie says. “Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen more chronic health issues such as type 1 diabetes, food allergies, and seizures that require medication. Also some students have mental health issues.”

Ten years after receiving her bachelor’s degree, Julie earned her master’s in public health from Indiana University Bloomington. She says that fits in very well with school nursing as she tries to help the students with any family circumstances that become barriers for the student attending school.

“Our goal is to keep the child at optimum health to be in school, and that sometimes involves social services and other healthcare agencies. We have done everything from helping families apply for Medicaid to arranging to have the family home’s heat and water turned back on.”

Her excellent work has not gone unnoticed. In November 2017, Julie was named School Nurse of the Year by the Indiana Association of School Nurses.

“It’s exciting for me to celebrate my 25th year of being a school nurse and to win this award,” Julie says.

“The job offers me something new every day. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on. Also, health education is a big part of the job as well. Letting families know when a student does need to stay at home, safe hand washing procedures, or letting families know if there’s an outbreak of an illness.

“It’s very challenging, and I love when I can connect students and families with services that can help them.”