Special to WLAA
By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Huron High School’s school nurse Kate Odette—who is also the district’s lead nurse—has just been named Michigan School Nurse of the Year.
Odette grew up in western Pennsylvania, attended the University of Wyoming on a basketball scholarship, and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in information science. After working as a systems analyst for a large corporation, she returned to school and graduated from Eastern Michigan with a degree in nursing and later a master’s in community health.
Odette spent several years as a neonatal intensive care nurse. She has worked in AAPS since 1997; as a school nurse since 1999. She has been the nurse at Huron High School since 2003 and is currently the district’s lead nurse.
She and her husband Randy live in Woodhaven and between them have three children and three grandchildren. They are each active in local government.
Fellow AAPS school nurse Amy Caragay, who has worked with Odette for seven years, noted that there are many nurses who have excellent assessment skills and are clearly good at what they do in healthcare.
“There are fewer nurses who have skills that have more to do with being comfortable working with children, parents, staff, administrators, and organizations throughout the state no matter who they are,” she said. “Kate is that truly unusual person who thrives on problem-solving and sharing information and coming up with solutions. She is the nurse lead in AAPS because she is able to link everyone together in ways that decrease tension and improve communication wherever she goes.”
Caragay said that if Odette were to be placed in any organization, that organization would immediately begin to improve.
“She always sees ways to fix things and make them better,” said Caragay. “I don’t know if that is her information technology background or just the way she is wired. She has a passion and energy for school nursing that is not often seen.”
Your thoughts on being named Michigan School Nurse of the Year? I am humbled yet very honored to be named as the Michigan School Nurse of the Year. AAPS has a very talented team of school nurses and I am very proud to work with all of them as well as the many professionals in AAPS that cross my path.
What made you decide to become a school nurse? I didn’t really decide to become a school nurse, it just kind of happened. I took several years off of work when my children were young and spent a lot of time volunteering at their school. I enjoyed working with children and working in the school environment. This seemed like a perfect match for me. This eventually led to my job as a school nurse. I began by being a substitute nurse at Huron, and really enjoyed school nursing. Over my 20 years in AAPS, I have worked in 8 different buildings, Huron has been my primary building for the past 16 years. I have also been able to integrate my first degree in Information Science and my computer background into my job as a school nurse.
What’s most satisfying about the job? One of the most satisfying parts of my job as a school nurse are the relationships that I have built over the years with students, their families, school staff and our health care partners in the community. While working at the high school level, it is very satisfying to work with students for 4 years and see them at graduation and know that they are ready and capable of caring for themselves and their health in the adult world regardless of where they are heading after high school. I also enjoy being an advocate for students where I can help manage a medical condition so it is not an issue in the classroom. School nurses bridge the gap between health and education. The CDC says it best: “Healthy children learn better; educated children grow to raise healthier families, thus creating a stronger, more productive nation for generations to come.”
What would surprise people about your work? Many people believe that school nurses mostly just hand out band aids and ice packs, yet minor first aid procedures are a very small part of our job. Some, including many health care providers that aren’t familiar with school nursing also believe this. School nurses manage many students with complex health conditions. Currently, in AAPS nearly 1/3 of all students have medical conditions; some of them major, some minor. School nurses spend a significant amount of time developing individualized health care plans, emergency care plans and training staff to care for their students, managing complex health conditions and assisting students with mental health concerns. It is always very difficult for me to plan my day in advance because I never know what may come my way that day.
What is the most challenging about your work? The most challenging part of my work is that there are not enough school nurses. The number of students with chronic physical health conditions and mental health issues has increased significantly over the 20 years that I’ve been a school nurse. School nurses work to actively promote student health, safety and self-worth and to decrease health disparities while treating students and their families with compassion and respect. School nurses work to assure that students have access to a full realm of educational opportunities regardless of their state of health. There just aren’t enough of us to go around.
The Huron clinic can be a very busy place, especially during cold and flu season. Triaging student and staff health complaints is a large part of my job. Is the student ok to return to class, do they need to be sent home, referred to their medical provider, or should 911 be called? What interventions from the school nurse’s scope of practice can be used to provide care? Most school nurses tend to work in isolation. There are typically no other medical professionals in a school building. I am very fortunate to have my building principal, Dr. Schwamb to consult with since she is also a nurse with many years of experience.
Did you have a Plan B in mind when you were in nursing school? I spent numerous years as a systems analyst designing computer systems for a large corporation before I went to nursing school. After completing my BSN, I began my nursing career as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. I enjoyed that position but the schedule was very difficult with young children so I took several years off from work before finding my way into school nursing. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to return to school and get a second chance on finding the right career for me.
How has the profession changed since then? Over the past 20 years, school nursing has changed dramatically. We have seen huge increases in chronic health conditions and mental health issues. The AAPS nurses care for students with diabetes, life-threatening food allergies, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, seizure disorders and many other conditions. We have just about the same number of nurses as we did in 1999, and even with all of the technology to assist us in doing the job, we are all significantly busier. Students today come to school with more complex health needs requiring more medical interventions to assure their safety at school.
When I began my career as a school nurse, nothing was computerized, and now nearly everything is electronic. This has been fun for me since I have a computer background. I have enjoyed working with the IT Department to collect health data, computerize health plans and health documentation. I have also built and maintained a nursing website for AAPS staff and families.
Years from now, what will you remember most about your career as a school nurse with AAPS? I will remember the many, many relationships that I have built over the years with my students, their families and AAPS staff.