Get to know Regina Wysocki, a school nurse and an alumna of the Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Program. Regina’s also the author of the 21st Century Nurse blog. Hear what she has to say about cultural awareness in nursing, and listen to questions from nursing students, as part of our “Ask A Nurse” portion of the podcast.
Subscribe to the MP3 Audio Podcast
Jamie Davis: Hi, Regina and welcome to Nursing Notes Live. It’s great to have you here on the show with us today.
Regina Wysocki: Hi, thank you. It’s good to be here.
Jamie: So I always ask our nurses, as a first question that kind of lead things off, to tell everybody little bit about why you wanted to become a nurse. What was it that drove you to choose this as your career?
Regina: Well, I didn’t start out originally wanting to be a nurse. I had gone to college with not really a specific major in mind then kind of drifted around in a couple different things. I thought about being a physician. I was interested in social work. I was interested in art history. So I kind of change my major multiple times and then finally settled on nursing. My mom is a nurse. So I think that probably might have influenced my decision a little bit. I think initially I didn’t want to be a nurse just because I thought I wanted to do something different than what my mom had done. But once I finally made the decision to go to nursing school, it took a couple of years. I knew I wanted to go to a bachelor’s program. I wanted to go to a university program and get my bachelor’s degree, but I hadn’t really had the most stellar academic and career before then. So I had to retake some classes, kind of get my GPA up. Then I finally got accepted into two nursing programs. One was at UTMB in in Galveston, where I ended up going, and then I also got accepted into a UT program in San Antonio. So at the last minute I kind of had to decide and see which school I wanted to go to, but ultimately I chose Galveston.
Jamie: Now, tell us a little bit about the progression of your career from where you started in nursing and what led you to getting into school nursing.
Regina: Sure. When I first got out of school, there was a big group of us friends that had all been in school together. We all went down to South Texas. We were recruited to work at a hospital down there. I actually originally wanted to be an OR nurse because I had taken an elective in Nursing School and I thought the operating room looks like a really interesting place to work. So I interviewed for a position in the OR but I didn’t get the job. Instead, they offered me a position in the ICU. It was a small ICU. It was more like a combination of maybe a cardiac care unit and an ICU and initially I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in the ICU right out of school, but I ended up taking the job and really liked it. I like ICU a lot more than I thought I would. So we stayed there for a little bit and then I got married and my husband, we went to nursing school together. We had traveled down to South Texas together, but we got married and we ended up in the Houston area. We had friends who worked at the Texas Medical Center. I got a job in the Shock Trauma ICU which I loved. I really enjoyed that. I learned so much. It was a great experience as far as seeing all the different types of patients and stuff like that. So I did that for a couple of years and then kind of scale back a little bit when I had my children. I worked part time. I did some agency work. A colleague, a friend mine, who had gone to nursing school with, she got into legal nurse consulting. So I worked for a company for several years in the Houston area that did legal nurse consulting. We read medical records and prepared reports for attorneys that they would use working on their cases. I really enjoyed that. I learned a lot about a different part of nursing that I didn’t even know existed. During that job, I actually worked as the company trainer. So I would train the new nurses and other employees on the different computer systems that we use to view the medical records and prepare reports. Through all that, I found out that I really liked teaching and I really liked the technology side of it. So as far as school nursing, after many years of working in legal nurse consulting, I was ready to do something different. I thought about going back to school for a Master’s Degree but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t particularly want to be a practitioner. I had a lot of friends who have gone that route but I just wasn’t quite sure. So I decided just to kind of make a pretty – I wouldn’t say “drastic” – but a pretty big career change. I had some friends who were school nurses. They encouraged me to apply to a school district that was close to mine. So I made that switch. I think that was about 2009. I’ve been at the current school district on that. This is my fifth year here after one year. In one school district, I moved to the school district where my children go. It’s been great. I never would’ve thought that I would become a school nurse. I really didn’t know what school nurses did until my children became school age. I started talking with the nurse a lot of at their campus too. So that also influenced my decision because she had great things to say about what a great job a school nurse had and the hours were great. You had a lot of autonomy. You were busy. She still had great things to say about it. So that kind of influenced my decision as well.
Jamie: I see in 2013 you were actually a member of the Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership program. That’s a great accomplishment. I’m offering you belated congratulations, I guess, that’s great.
Regina: Thank you. Yes, that is something that my supervisor in health services here in my district. She knew about the program and we had been kind of talking about applying for a little while. So we did and we had a group, there were six of us from our school district that went. It was a fantastic experience. We got to spend a week at the Johnson & Johnson headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It’s put on by J&J and Rutgers University. It was great. We got to spend a week there learning leadership skills and presentation skills and how to really kind of look outside the four walls of your clinic and be a real advocate for your students in the community. It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it.
Jamie: I know that a lot through my own interaction with school nurses with my own kids that school nurses really are almost the lead public health nurses for a whole segment of our population. You influence so many lives. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
Regina: Sure. Yes. That is true. I didn’t really think of myself as a public health nurse when I started school nursing. You don’t realize, like you said, how many people you influence because I came to realize after a year or two being a school nurse that you don’t just work with the students, you work with their families as well. Depending on what type of campus you work in, some school nurses may be the only medical care, the only healthcare provider that they might see. I think we have a big responsibility. It is a little overwhelming sometimes when you think about it, but also I think we do have the opportunity to really influence students and the staff as well. I found being a school nurse that not only the students and the parents come to me, but also the staff members on the campus for questions or concerns. I can help people find resources that maybe they didn’t even know existed. We can often put parents in contact with other parents on our campus who have students with similar conditions. So they can be a network and support for each other. We are kind of the hidden public health nurses, I think, because I think a lot of people don’t realize that their students in school nowadays that didn’t go to school 20 to 30 years ago. So we deal with a wide variety of health issues and conditions.
Jamie: Yes, I know the nurse in our high school is dealing with things like feeding tubes and students with major disabilities that require some pretty serious oversight while they’re at the school and under their care. But it seems like that makes it all the more challenging for a nurse. It’s something different all the time.
Regina: Yes, that’s very true. Every day is different. That was a little different for me at first when I started as a school nurse. Even in the ICU, when I worked in a hospital, you pretty much knew what you were getting. You had a history on your patient. You knew what their illness or their injury was. You had certain procedures and things that you would do with those patients. But here, at my school, I don’t know if it’s going to be a busy day or if it’s going to be a quiet day. You don’t know if students with certain conditions are going to need you more than they might. Yes, definitely, and I think my experiences as an ICU nurse has been very helpful to me because you do – here on my campus I’m the only nurse. I’m in an elementary campus. Our high school campuses are much larger, so some of them have two and three nurses on campus. But here it’s just me and my clinic assistant. I’m the only medical person here. So that was a little strange for me at first being the only person in a facility with medical experience. I was used to being in the hospital with other nurses and physicians and all kinds of healthcare workers. Even as a legal nurse consultant, I had lots of nurses there with me. You definitely have to be able to work autonomously and, like an ICU nurse, think fast on your feet, be prepared. You have to be able to deal with – you’re working in a school environment. That’s very different from any sort of environment I have worked in as a nurse before.
Jamie: We see a lot of things changing in our culture with health and individuals, but the student population they’re the future of our communities. What is one of the biggest challenges you see right now facing the health of youth in your schools and what are some of the things that school nurses are doing to help with that?
Regina: I think that I would say probably one of the biggest challenges is that people don’t see healthcare in a prevention light. I think a lot of people still like to be reactive to, “Now, I’m sick. I need to go to the doctor.” We work really hard in our schools to encourage prevention and regular checkups and more of a – we like to focus on more of a wellness model I guess than a sickness model. I think a lot of people just think, “Oh, just go to the school nurse if you need a Band-Aid or if you fall down and get hurt,” or something like that. We really try to focus more on ways to keep people healthy. I know in my campus we have health fairs where we have different vendors come in and talk about healthy eating or fitness. Our Parent-Teacher Organization is wonderful on my campus and they are very involved. They help us with the health fair. Last year we participated in the National Walk-to-School Day. So we had the whole – pretty much the whole campus. I have about 630 students. We live in a neighborhood that surrounds the school and we have good sidewalks and good access to the school. So everybody walked to school on one day. We try to look for things that can help people think about wellness and health before they get sick to kind of keep them healthy. We also do something here on my campus called “The Bubble Patrol.” Since I’m in elementary school we can make it kind of fun. So during flu season, my clinic assistant and I will go around in the hallways and kind of peek into the – we have long hallways where the sinks are to wash their hands. So we see who is washing their hands correctly, who is doing a good job. We give them little stickers that say “I got caught by the Bubble Patrol washing my hands.” Then we have some little prizes at the end of the week. Another thing we did during the health fair that we have every year, I have the fifth graders team up into teams and they make posters about interest topics that they’re interested in that are health-related. So we had posters last year on healthy eating, “Say no to drugs”, sunscreen, all kinds of different things; food allergy awareness, because we have several students on the campus with different sorts of food allergies. We look for ways to kind of get people thinking about prevention and wellness.
Jamie: I love that Bubble Patrol thing. That’s such a great idea. I can only imagine how excited the kids get when they get recognized for something as simple as washing their hands.
Regina: It’s a lot of fun. In fact, the first year we did, the teachers said to me, “Okay, we have to take a little bit more time in the bathroom because nobody wants to go back to class because they’re waiting for the Bubble Patrol to come and give them their sticker.” Yes, it’s a lot of fun.
Jamie: We always get some questions from student nurses that I like to throw in to these interviews because we’re trying to help them find their way to their career. One of the things that I find a good question to ask is what do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a nurse?
Regina: Oh, goodness, what do I know now? Well, I think that I thought when I got out of school with my Bachelor’s degree and started working as a nurse that I would know everything I needed to know to work. That’s definitely not the case. In any type of job I’ve had as a nurse there’s a learning curve at the beginning. I thought, especially when I came to school nursing, I thought, “I used to work in the ICU. How hard can it be to work in the school clinic?” It’s a different type of nursing so I had to learn – you just have to kind of be open to the idea that you’re always going to learn no matter what kind of nursing position you have. I wasn’t sure if I would ever go on and advance my education further, but actually I’m in the Master’s program now. I think it’s important to remember that you’re a lifelong learner as a nurse. There’s always something new to learn. There’s always new medications, new procedures. I’ve taken care of students here at my campus with conditions I had never even heard of until I became a school nurse. So I think you have to be open to that whole concept of constantly learning your – I think you’re never finished with school. I enjoy school even though it’s busy, it’s time-consuming and it’s kind of hard to juggle all of that and my family and working too. I think it’s important that we advance our education.
Jamie: What was the best piece of nursing advice you received from another nurse over the course of your career?
Regina: Oh, goodness, let’s see. I got very good advice from my mom right before I went to nursing school. She’s been a nurse for a long time. She told me two things that I always try to remember. She said when you’re in school and even when you start your job, she said, just be a sponge and learn everything that you can. She also said never ask anybody to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. I think that’s very important as a nurse. You work in a team, whether it’s a hospital with other nurses and healthcare attendants and physicians and students or here at my clinic. I have a clinic assistant but we also have parents and teachers. I think you need to be willing to be part of the team and don’t ask somebody to do something that you either haven’t done or you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
Jamie: This month on one of my other shows here for Nursing Notes Live, we have a panel discussion on cultural competency and cultural awareness in nursing. I am wondering, with that school population, you must have opportunities to interact with diverse cultures and populations of people. How does that affect you or how have you changed your outlook on cultural awareness as a nurse since you’ve been in the school setting?
Regina: For me, I’ve had to realize that not everybody comes from the same background that I do. There are all kinds of different socioeconomic situations that maybe I wasn’t aware of or had never been exposed to before working as a school nurse. I think I’ve learned that I should never assume just because somebody comes from a certain area or certain culture that they live a certain way because I think everybody always have their own unique situation. I’ve learned to just ask people. If I don’t understand something about someone’s culture or their background that I just need to ask. Because people, usually for the most part, are happy that you ask and they want to talk to you about their situation and I think they enjoy sharing the differences in the way that they live with others. I’ve learned to just keep an open mind and never assume anything because you know what they say when you assume. It’s usually wrong. So it’s been a real eye-opener in that situation.
Make sure you check out the entire August, 2014 issue of Nursing Notes, where we look at cultural awareness in nursing. You can read the entire issue online at www.discovernursing.com and don’t miss the other Nursing Notes Live episode this month where I chat with two nurse educators who are teaching the next generation of nurses about cultural awareness. Margarita Trevino is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing. She’s also the director of the Center for Hispanic Studies in Nursing and Health. Julie Mattingly is an assistant professor of nursing at Methodist College in Peoria, Illinois. She is also working on a capstone DNP project on reversing preschool obesity in an American Indian Head Start program. You’ll find this and other episodes of Nursing Notes Live in the podcast area on iTunes.