Keely Hoffman, AAPS’ lead school nurse and Michigan School Nurse of the Year 2022

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Keely Hoffman already has two important titles behind her name: AAPS’ lead school nurse, and—since March of 2020—lead nurse of the district’s COVID clinical and protocol needs.

And now she can add a new accolade: Michigan School Nurse of the Year 2022.

“Keely is the desired picture of a Michigan School Nurse of the Year—knowledgeable, professional, and always supportive of those she’s leading and caring for,” says Ann Burdick, school nurse at Huron High.

Hoffman will receive the award Friday, May 20, at the annual state Michigan Association of School Nurses (MASN) conference in Traverse City.

Sharon Jakab, school nurse at Forsythe Middle School and Pathways to Success Academic Campus, admires Hoffman’s decision to earn her master’s degree while growing in her role as Lead Nurse and the nurse overseeing COVID.

“She has risen to the challenges that COVID threw at us and has not backed down in facing the daily issues head on,” says Jakab. “She leads with heart, confidence, and finesse.  Much about our journey this year has been about being present 24/7, knowledgeable, inventive, flexible, relentless, patient, empathetic, supportive of all—staff, students, families, and our nurse team—and still having a sense of humor.   She has never shied away from being in the trenches with us, seeking our input, and walking this walk alongside us.   In all this, she has had an acute awareness of when to detach for her own well-being and to support us by going above and beyond so that this nurse team could take time to recalibrate.”

 Skyline School Nurse Kristin Mahler says she was honored to be among those who nominated Hoffman for the award. She recalls that when Hoffman became the lead nurse at the beginning of the school year 2019/20, she started showing her leadership skills immediately, using her wide-ranging knowledge of school nursing and her calm and organized manner.

“Then COVID hit,” says Mahler.  “As our leader, she was amazing! She guided us, as a team, as we tried to navigate in an ever-changing, uncertain world. She was ceaseless in staying current on issues affecting schools and school nurses’ role in a safe return to schools. She was calm and compassionate as she supported staff and our team of nurses through the transition from being virtual and then our return to in-person learning. She continually advocated for more school nurses and other support as school nurses moved into their new roles managing COVID, contact tracing, as well as all the other health challenges school nurses face at the beginning of the school year.

Burdick noted that Hoffman is dedicated to planning and caring for health-impacted students, as well as supporting staff and their health needs.

“Regardless of health conditions, accidents and incidents happen to both staff and students, and Keely is cognizant that school nurses service both staff and students,” she says. 

Ms. Hoffman leads a team of school nurses in following evidence-based practices to provide the highest quality school nurse care to students across 32 buildings. She is well-known for her professional, calm and supportive manner with both students and adults. Her reputation as a tireless advocate for individual students’ medical needs and for district improvements in programming and services is well deserved.

Michigan Association of School Nurses

In announcing the award, the MASN noted: “Being the COVID nurse lead has meant many new “hats” – lead case investigator and contact tracer, liaison to the local health department, consultant to staff and administrators, developer of quarantine protocols, and trainer for nurses and other staff. She has also continued her clinic work by seeing students in school clinics, serving as a vaccinator at clinics held in AAPS buildings, and testing hundreds of students at school. In all of these responsibilities, Ms. Hoffman has consistently shown compassion and a strong commitment to nursing standards and practices. She’s been a role model of competency and steady strength to her fellow nurses and all AAPS staff.”

Hoffman and fellow AAPS nurses at a vaccination clinic

Hoffman says she is honored and humbled by the award, especially because her colleagues nominated her during the exceptionally busy fall and winter.

“It has been a challenging and busy school year for so many, including nurses,” she says. “We have a fabulous and strong nurse team here in AAPS and I am so proud to be a part of this group of smart and competent individuals! It takes a village, and I love this village of amazing school nurses.”

Keely Hoffman was born and raised in the small town of Bellingham, Minnesota. Her father was a postmaster and rural carrier and her mother was a kindergarten teacher. Hoffman attended Moorhead State University before transferring to North Dakota State University to earn her B.S.N. At the beginning of the pandemic, she completed her Masters of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.).

Before joining AAPS seven years ago, Hoffman worked in a variety of different settings, including orthopedics, home care, medical-surgical, and occupational health, and spent many years in dialysis and transplant services.

She and her husband, Dave, have three children. Their sons graduated from Pioneer High School. Nick graduated from the University of Michigan and Simon is a sophomore there now. Their daughter Lucy is a junior at Pioneer.

When did you know you wanted to be a nurse, and what inspired you?
I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in a long-term care facility throughout high school and summers during my college years. It was such a pleasure to work with the geriatric population and I imagined one day being a nurse and possibly putting my energy toward changing the culture of long-term care facilities. It was at that point that I really thought I wanted to pursue a nursing career but questioned my decision upon starting college. I dabbled in psychology and interior design before finally declaring nursing as my major. 

How many school nurses does AAPS employ?
AAPS has 18 school nurses, several part-time, with a total of 14 FTEs who work with students. One AAPS nurse has a one-on-one assignment. I have been acting as the COVID Lead, managing all things COVID, and district Lead Nurse, supporting district nurses, and acting as the liaison to the management team. A school nurse is often assigned to multiple school buildings and may have 1500-2000 students with whom they may service and provide care. 

What do you most want parents to know about the work of school nurses? 
We are your partners and we are here to work with you and your student’s physical and mental health care needs as you navigate through the school and health care systems.  School nurses do so much more than provide ice packs and Band-Aids. They oversee the health care needs of hundreds of students with chronic health conditions and acute health care needs. The school nurse is a valuable resource in helping families and students access health care and community resources, including dental, vision care, immunizations, and so much more. NASN’s Framework for 21st Century School Nursing Practice (the Framework) provides structure and focus for evidence-based nursing practice, aligning with the model of Whole School, Whole Child, and Whole Community, (National Association of School Nurses, 2015). Utilization of this framework helps school nurses bridge healthcare and education.

With so many career paths available to nurses today, why do some choose to work in schools? 
After gaining valuable assessment and health care management skills and experiences, nurses may look to move to a community setting. The school setting offers an alternative and rewarding experience for nurses. It provides the opportunity for nurses to function autonomously, utilize a wide range of skills, and advocate for and work closely with children, impacting their growth and development, often while navigating complex health care issues and challenges. 

What are the biggest rewards and challenges of being a school nurse? 
I love advocating for students and families to assist with obtaining the safest and healthiest access to their educational opportunities. Being a school nurse requires collaboration with families, the school team, and the health care system to provide and support the safest, healthiest, and most inclusive educational opportunity for students. The school nurse wears multiple hats. Writing health plans, advocating for support when needed for unique medical situations, consulting on IEPs and 504s, educating students and staff regarding health and wellness, helping students manage chronic health conditions such as diabetes, setting up a tube feeding, assessing and monitoring a student injury, communicating with the healthcare provider’s office, and following up on positive COVID cases are just a few of the many things the nurse might due in a given day. As a school nurse, you are always learning something new and have the opportunity to grow in one’s profession on a daily basis.  

Being assigned to multiple buildings and managing a large number of students can be challenging for sure. These past few years, COVID has presented real challenges and has created an unexpected learning curve for nurses. This team handled it seamlessly with many long hours and a commitment and perseverance to learn everchanging guidance from the state and county levels, while at the same time juggling the usual responsibilities of the school nurse.

But the rewards of being a school nurse far outweigh any challenges.

Some students face complex health problems that require care in school. Is that a daunting responsibility for our school nurses?
Nurses work with students with asthma, severe food allergies, seizures, diabetes, bleeding disorders, cardiac conditions, hemophilia, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and other diagnoses. There are health care plans that need to be written, communication with parents and health care providers, and education with designated school personnel, who assist these students with their care needs during the school day. Yes, this responsibility can be daunting when you consider that the school nurse is responsible for as many as 1500-2000 students. It can be challenging to not have the time that is needed to do in-depth follow-ups, and expand our roles and responsibilities to do other initiatives such as health promotion, prevention, and wellness. 

How do school nurses act as liaisons to the school community?
The nurse is a resource to both students, families, and staff when it comes to health-related issues. The school nurse is available to communicate with families, answer questions, and educate the school community regarding public health and other health concerns. This necessitates that the nurse stays current on the ever-changing medical guidance and the educational system.

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently, career-wise?
No, I am proud to be a nurse! I have had a very fulfilling career, thus far, working in a variety of different settings. There are so many opportunities available to nurses. You never have to worry about finding a job or getting bored. The hours can be very flexible, which can be beneficial when raising a family.

How do you spend your summer vacation?
After this school year particularly, I look forward to unwinding, spending time with family and friends, and relaxing at my cottage.

Hoffman pauses for a photo with some of her fellow AAPS school nurses. “It takes a village,” she says.

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