Good Talk: Mrs. Stamp

Meet the NASH school nurse who has seen every episode of ER and refuses to swim in the ocean.

Claire Majerac, Opinions Editor

How long have you been working at North Allegheny?

I’ve been a school nurse for a long time, but this is only my second school year at NASH. I started in August of 2020. COVID was already happening when I got here, but it has definitely changed everything in school health.

Where were you before you came to North Allegheny?

I started as a school nurse in 2001 and I spent fifteen years at Millcreek School District in Erie. Then my husband and I had the opportunity to move to Texas for his job, so we moved to Austin, Texas for five years. We lived in Austin, Texas and I worked for the Georgetown Independent School District. Then in 2020 we moved back to Pennsylvania and landed here in Pittsburgh. 

Did you always know you wanted to work with kids? What led you to being a school nurse?

When I started out, I went to the University of Pittsburgh and got a nursing degree. When I graduated from Pitt, I worked at Children’s Hospital here in Pittsburgh. I think I had always known I wanted to work with kids, but I was not really sure what that would look like. There are a lot of different opportunities when you work in nursing. There’s all kinds of different in-patient settings, home healthcare and schools, of course. So pretty early I sort of gravitated towards wanting to work in school health. In Pennsylvania, you have to have a school nursing certification. Just like a teacher gets a teaching certificate, you have to get a school nurse certificate to be a school nurse in PA. I went back to school at Gannon, got my nursing certificate in 2001, and started to work for Millcreek. I worked in an elementary school for seven years and then moved to McDowell High School. Once I got to the high school level, I knew that I wanted to work with high school kids. I really love this age of kids, and I really love working with them. I felt like I found my place.

What does a typical day look like for you? What constitutes a relatively easy day and a tough day?

COVID has completely changed that. If you would have asked me that question two years ago I would have given you a completely different answer because it was always more things like daily medications, students with diabetes, if anyone got hurt in PE. But in addition to that, there was a lot of teaching. When I was at McDowell, I taught a blood pressure unit, so I would go into the classrooms. Our elementary nurses still do that where they go into the classroom and teach about things like dental health, good hand-washing, and those kinds of things.

Unfortunately, since COVID has come around, a lot of that time that we would have spent on the education piece is taken out by things that are very different. We come in the door in the morning, and there are usually a bunch of voicemail messages, a bunch of emails. Parents are reporting positive cases and asking about quarantine notifications they received. COVID has overtaken a lot of the time that we used to get to spend doing the things that we liked. Unfortunately, it’s just the reality. On a normal day now, we juggle all of that, and we see maybe 40 or 50 kids who come in for illness, injury, or questions about COVID.  Plus we have all of our kids who take daily medications, we have kids with diabetes who come in to get their blood sugar, we have kids with medications on an as-needed basis for migraine headaches, for all sorts of things. We have all the normal things that we had before, but now we added COVID into it. Our days are very full. If we only see 20 or 25 kids in a day, that’s a pretty slow day. Before [COVID, having only 25 kids in a day] probably would have been more the norm.

If you had not pursued a nursing career, what would you have done?

At the time, when I was your age in high school, I kind of knew that I wanted to be a nurse, and I had interest in the medical field. But to be completely honest, I grew up in a really small town near Grove City, and I did not really know what else I could be. I thought I could be a nurse and a teacher. Those were the things that I knew. My parents were not college educated, so I did not really have that as an example, and I really didn’t know what else was out there. But in hindsight, if I was not a nurse, I would probably work in real estate. I really developed a liking for that sort of thing. I watch HGTV a lot, and I love home remodeling shows — flipping houses and that sort of thing. I’m very happy I chose nursing as a career, but if I had to change careers at this point I think I would go into real estate. I think it would be fun and completely different from nursing, and I think that’s part of the attraction.

What would you say to people who do not give school nurses the credit they deserve?

Anybody that knows me will know that I am super passionate about school health. I think what we do here is so important. I know people do not realize what we do. I think a lot of people think all we do is hand out Band-Aids all day, and I think they have no idea what kind of challenges our kids have, especially in the age of the pandemic. We see a lot of kids with anxiety disorders. We see a lot of kids with depression. They are afraid of everything that happens in the world. They are afraid of the unknown. I cannot overstate that I feel that school nurses are the front line of primary care.

I have said this a hundred times in my life, but not every kid goes to the doctor, not every kid goes to the dentist, but every kid comes to school. That gives us a really unique opportunity to be here, to guide them, to shape what their future could look like. Not every kid has a parent that they feel comfortable talking to about medical issues or mental health issues they are facing. Parents have their plates full; they are trying to navigate. I feel like I was meant to be a school nurse. I feel like the work we do here is so important. I feel bad for people who never feel like they figured out what they were supposed to be doing in life, because I am one-hundred percent sure I am in the right place. 

Do you watch medical shows on TV? Do medical shows ring true to what working in the medical field is like?

Sometimes. This is kind of old, and it kind of dates me, but I used to watch ER. I watched every episode of it. I used to like to see if the kinds of things they were doing and saying were accurate. I never missed an episode of it. I watched every season start to finish. I mean even in nursing terms, the medical information they provided was realistic. I thought it was. I mean, it was pretty lifelike. 

What was your favorite vacation? What would be your dream vacation?

I am a beach person. I like the sunshine. I like to go to the beach, but I do not really like to swim in the ocean. I like to swim in a pool where I know what else is in there with me. I am not really gung-ho about swimming in the ocean, but I love to walk on the beach. I love the feeling of sand on your toes, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves — as long as I do not have to spend too much time in the water. We went to Gulf Shores last summer, which is in Alabama, and the very first day we were there I walked into the water and got stung by a jellyfish on my ankle. It’s not like it’s the most painful thing, but it did sting. All of a sudden my ankle was burning like it was on fire, so I never got in the water the rest of the time, and we didn’t have a pool. So it was hot on the beach, but I had no desire to get in the water. There were jellyfish all over the place. 

What is your favorite book?

I am not a big reader, but when I do read it is usually on vacation. I would say I like easy-to-read love story, sappy books. I like Nicholas Sparks. He’s my favorite. I read all of his books; I have all of them. Sometimes I re-read those. Even though they’re super predictable, I still enjoy them. 

What advice would you give to students looking to pursue a career in nursing?

The really positive thing about nursing is that you can do so many different things. I think a lot of people discount school health. They don’t even think of it as something they could do. Or they go into it for the wrong reasons, thinking they will be off in the summer. But what you end up finding out is there is so much more to it.