The New Face of School Nursing
PICC lines. Foley catheters. Anti-seizure medication. The face of school nursing is changing, and Debbie Duteau ’19 and Molly Reid ’19 are helping to redefine it.
At South Street Elementary School in Fitchburg, MA, Debbie and Molly are responsible for the well-being of nearly 700 students. On any given day the duo sees 60-80 kids, treating a mix of acute and chronic conditions. As school nurses, they work on the front lines of the health continuum, helping students manage diabetes, asthma, immunosuppression, and other serious medical conditions.
As colleagues at South Street Elementary School, Molly (left) and Debbie are creating a healthcare culture that emphasizes positivity, laughter, and human dignity. “We’re helping to build our students’ self-esteem and change their perspective,” Molly said.
“Many people think that when you leave the hospital and become a school nurse, you’re essentially giving up the clinical skills,” said Molly, a resident of Fitchburg. “You’re not. They’re utilized everyday.”
For Debbie and Molly, school nursing encompasses much more than health assessments and daily medication administrations. Supporting students’ socioemotional needs is equally important.
“Nurses should always have a seat at the team meetings when discussing any issues regarding students,” said Debbie, a resident of Winchendon, MA. “When we can collaborate with parents, teachers, and administrators, and connect those areas, that’s where school nursing differs from working in a hospital.”
“I love being the vital link between optimal health and academic achievement,” Molly said.
Taking the Next Step
Earning their master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees has been a labor of love for Debbie and Molly. On Friday nights they set up camp at Molly’s house, doing their homework at the kitchen table in between loads of laundry and meal preparations. On Sundays, they repeat the process at Debbie’s home, systematically tackling their assignments.
Together, they’ve figured out how to be attentive mothers, compassionate school nurses, and dedicated learners, all at the same time.
“Our stories are very similar,” Debbie said. “But that helps us stay on track. We set goals at work, and we do the same thing with Elms.”
“It’s great working with someone who works just as hard as you do, and is just as ambitious,” Molly said.
Prior to working as a school nurse, Debbie ran a successful massage therapy business for 10 years. She decided to pursue nursing because it offered greater financial stability for her family.
School nurses are required to become nationally certified or earn an MSN degree within five years of beginning work in a school setting. Debbie and Molly decided on Elms because it offered discounted tuition, the option to specialize in school nursing, and online classes.
“You have to have self-discipline to take online classes, but the hours are amazing, being a mom,” Debbie said.
“Working full time and being a mother of two teenage daughters, I thought the program fit perfectly,” Molly said. “It’s very interactive, and the professors are fantastic.”
Becoming Nurse Leaders
Fostering a positive healthcare environment at South Street is one of Debbie and Molly’s primary goals. Earning their MSN degrees is their way of showing their commitment to the Fitchburg Public Schools district.
Before becoming a school nurse, Molly worked on women’s and children’s units for 15 years. Transitioning from a hospital to a public school was a natural move, she said, as school nursing still requires extensive use of clinical skills and knowledge.
“The MSN program has helped me visualize myself as a leader,” Debbie said. “It has prompted me to use creative thinking when advocating for changes I would like to see implemented for school health needs.”
“Learning is a lifelong process,” Molly said. “Elms College helped me recognize that our goals need to be ambitious but achievable.”