Her co-workers aren’t a bit surprised that AAPS school nurse Laurelle Brennan has been named 2015 School Nurse of the Year by the Michigan Association of School Nurses.
“As a team, the AAPS nurses are absolutely thrilled that Laurelle is receiving this award,” said Kate Odette, a school nurse at Huron and King, who said all of the AAPS nurses pushed for the nomination. “She has been a leader to all of us in Ann Arbor for 20 years. Additionally, Laurelle is a nationally certified school nurse. There are only 18 in Michigan—three in AAPS, so she has gone above and beyond to be a very well prepared school nurse.”
Brennan grew up in Brookfield, Illinois, graduated with a BSN in 1977 from DePaul University in Chicago, and received National School Nurse Certification in 2001.
She has worked at Children’s Memorial in Chicago (orthopedics), the University of Iowa (orthopedics children and adults), the University of Michigan (toddler, cardiac and moderate care), Child Health Associates (well child pediatrics); High Point School, and—since 1994—Ann Arbor Public Schools. She divides her time between Ann Arbor Open and Haisley Elementary.
Brennan has a 31-year-old son who lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand. She lives in Sylvania, Ohio with her partner, Kelly, as well as her dog, Daphne and cat, Chelsea. Brennan will be honored by the AAPS Board of Education next week and at a School Nurse of the Year award ceremony and luncheon May 7 in Lansing.
With so many routes a nurse can take, what made you decide to become a school nurse? I always wanted to work in pediatrics. I ended up in orthopedics because Children’s Memorial (my first job) was divided by age, not diagnosis, except for a couple of units. I couldn’t decide what age I preferred, so I went to ortho because that unit had all ages. I remained working in the hospital in Chicago, Iowa City, and Ann Arbor.
After having my son, I couldn’t work on the floor anymore and chose to move to outpatient pediatrics, which is where I wanted to end up. Child Health Associates did a great job of teaching me child pediatrics. I don’t think I would have been as good at my job without working for them. The pediatricians are great teachers, and I saw children with any and every type of medical problem.
From there, I moved to High Point School, which was an interesting challenge. These children had normal pediatric problems as well as very severe medical issues. I learned how to be part of a multi disciplinary team; teach non-medical staff how to manage and recognize possible medical issues; and develop good relationships with students and their families.
I then substituted for an AAPS nurse that was on medical leave, and I was hooked. A nurse retired out of the district that year, and I applied and got the job.
What would surprise people about the job? I think that most people think that school nurses only put on Band-Aids and hand out ice. Some, including nurses that don’t do this job, think it’s an easy way to earn a paycheck and get summers off. When a new school nurse starts, they are very surprised at how difficult and complicated our jobs really are. We manage very complicated medical issues in the course of a day—from diabetes, to seizures, severe allergies, asthma and just about anything else at any given moment. Then do all this in multiple buildings.
What is the most satisfying part of the job? The most challenging? Sometimes we are the students’ best advocates. For me personally, I get the most satisfaction when I can manage a medical condition so well that it becomes a non-issue in the classroom. My goal is to help the teacher understand the diagnosis so that they are comfortable with whatever the diagnosis is, and make a plan that is easy to follow, which then allows the child to be at their best for learning.
Most frustrating: Not enough of us. Michigan has the worst school nurse to student ratio in all 50 states. Ann Arbor has the most school nurses in the county with nine. I only have two buildings, but some of our nurses have five or six buildings. Sometimes we just don’t have enough time to do everything that we can to help students, which then can increase student achievement.
How often do parents send sick children to school? How should they determine when they should keep children home? Parents send sick children to school all the time. I understand that sometimes parents don’t have a choice with their work schedule, family support, and financial issues. But we have to look at the big picture: What happens when a contagious child is in a classroom? This can pose a problem for the other students, as well as the teacher and any other adult the child comes in contact with.
We follow the Health Department guidelines for when we send a child home from school, and when they can return. This information is communicated to parents through notes that we send home, newsletter articles, phone calls, and emails.
Your thoughts on the vaccination controversy? I am pleased that the state and school districts are taking a strong stance on immunizations. I understand that parents can chose to vaccinate or not, and with that comes certain responsibilities. Parents are responsible for having their child vaccinated appropriately, or taking the time to now go to the Health Department and obtain a waiver. I cannot tell you how many hours the office professionals in our buildings spend calling parents and sending out reminder letters about overdue immunizations. I am glad that this should now be minimal.
Years from now, what will you remember most about your career as a school nurse with AAPS? I have been so fortunate to work with such dedicated and talented people over my tenure here. I have learned so much from them and had so much fun working together. When I leave, I will miss the smiles and hugs from the children and parents that I have gotten to know.
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