Home Life Kids & Family Carrboro Elementary’s Rita Crain Sheds Light on the Complex Role of a...

Carrboro Elementary’s Rita Crain Sheds Light on the Complex Role of a School Nurse

While most people misunderstand the school nurse to be a glorified first-aid station, Rita Crain explains the challenges she faces in providing healthcare in a non-medical setting

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Photo by Briana Brough

Why did you go into nursing?

“When I was about 10, I shared a Greyhound bus seat with a nursing student from Penn State who was poring over nursing textbooks the entire way. She shared them with me. I was fascinated and hooked.”

What do you like most about your job?

“I love the fact that I really get to know my kids and families. I get to see [some] kids and families from the time they are 3 years old in our preschool until they graduate, and then see the younger siblings come through.

I get to work with wonderful kids every day. This job goes beyond seeing them when they are sick. We address their wellness as a whole.”

What is most challenging about school nursing?

“That there is a misunderstanding of what a school nurse does. To many people, a school nurse is a glorified first-aid station, but that is actually the smallest part of our job.

We handle children with chronic and complex medical issues; children with chemo, central lines, insulin pumps and injections, ventilators, tube feedings, multiple ostomies, seizures and daily medications, all in a non-medical setting. We are also responsible for all the communication with their health care providers and the legalities of providing this care.

We train other faculty members to work with these children and be able to recognize and respond to problems, as well as training school staff in OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], emergency procedures, safety procedures and health regulations. We train bus drivers on emergency medical procedures, too. We teach CPR classes.

Perhaps most importantly, we screen hundreds of children and are responsible for the referrals and follow-up of these screenings, as well as assisting families with access to care and resources. And we do all of this around the real work of the school, which is teaching the children.”

What do you think sets CHCCS school nurses apart?

“We have the most amazing crew of nurses at CHCCS. We all have our areas of expertise from past practices. We have several nurses who have a strong background in mental health – very important – while several of us have ICU or emergency department backgrounds, and others come from primary care. We provide each other with support and consultation.

My practice here is different in that I am the only nurse practitioner in the district. This means that I have an advanced practice license, and with a collaborative practice agreement with UNC Department of Pediatrics, my practice has expanded to allow me to diagnose and prescribe for some primary care conditions.”

Any advice for someone considering the nursing field?

“There are so many positives. You can love your job, it can be very flexible, and it can change many times as your life changes. There are so many totally different careers that you can pursue with a nursing degree. If you are bored then you can reinvent yourself. There is always something new to learn and new areas to explore.”

Tell us a little about your life in Carrboro.

“I have lived in Carrboro since 1994. We raised our three children here. We love the music, theater, sports and restaurants and that we can walk or bike almost anywhere we need. I live and work in this neighborhood and feel very much a part of it.”

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Morgan Weston is a North Carolina native, and loves exploring the Triangle's diverse food, arts and craft beer offerings.