Day in the Life Video and Photo Gallery

School nurse examining student's throat using penlight
School Nurse, Emily Oium, examines a student's throat
LaFarge School District 

 May 11, 2022
 By: Teresa DuChateau

A Day in the Life: A Photo Essay of the Wisconsin School Nurses and the COVID-19 Pandemic

When I first imagined embarking on this project, my plan was to spend a day with each of the school nurses and capture photos of them in action. I believed that the photos alone would be able to tell the story of what the past two years had been like for Wisconsin school nurses. From the beginning I planned on interviewing the nurses to hear about their experiences managing the pandemic. I thought I could listen to their stories and capture images that expressed what they shared during the interview.  Shortly before the project began, I made the decision to video tape the nurses’ interviews as this would allow me to re-watch their interviews after my visit and pull-out details that could inform the captions for the photos. After the first two school visits I realized how powerful it was to HEAR and SEE the nurses as they told their stories. I could see the physical relief that came over many of them as they had the opportunity to put words to what they have experienced. I realized how important it would be to include the videos as part of the project as the videos captured the emotions, experiences, and challenges that the school nurses experienced in a way that a picture could not.

What Do You Remember Most?

Each one of the school nurses shared that, at the onset of the pandemic and during the peak periods, they worked far beyond their assigned hours, some of them were compensated for these extra hours, others were not.  During the summer of 2020, the school nurses worked numerous extra hours, educating themselves about this new virus because they felt a professional responsibility to educate themselves and prepare, as best as possible, for the upcoming school year. In this video clip, the school nurses recall what they remember most from when the pandemic first started.

Pressure, Anxiety, Stress, Sadness, Fear, and Pain

As the school nurses thought back to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, they recounted spending evenings and weekends calling parents and guardians informing them that their child had been a close contact of someone with COVID-19, constantly monitoring their emails, and participating in evening and weekend meetings with school administrators.

The evening and weekend hours did not decline during the 2021-2022, as many had hoped that they would. The phone calls to parents became more difficult as the public's exhaustion and impatience with COVID started to take a toll. The school nurses recounted these emotions when they discussed what kept them up at night and in response to the question about the emotions they have experienced during this time.

Thought About Leaving but Decided to Stay

Many of the nurses expressed that at some point over the past two years they had thought about leaving their position as a school nurse. Although the first year of the pandemic was overwhelming due to the uncertainty and the constantly changing recommendations, the 2021-22 school year seemed, for many, to be even harder.

After hearing the challenges that the school nurses had endured, I was amazed that the nurses made the decision to not leave school nursing. On average, the school nurse salary is significantly less than what a nurse could make working in a hospital, home health, or clinic setting. All the school nurses were working well over 50-60 hours per week and were “on-call” seven days a week. The school nurses could have easily found positions that provided a better work-life balance. They could have acquired positions that did not require them to be at the center of controversy that many of them were in with their role in policy development and enforcement. But ultimately they all chose to stay. Many of them shared that it was the love of the children, the staff they have the pleasure to work with, and a sense that where they are right now is where they are meant to be. In this video clip the school nurses share what made them decide to stay.

Did Not Do It Alone

Although most school nurses are the only health care provider employed by the school, they did not manage the pandemic alone. All the school nurses created or strengthened their relationships with their public health partners. Additionally, school nurses found support in nursing colleagues, school staff and administration, along with family and friends.

Getting Back to the Heart of School Nursing
Sign indicating COVID testing
Hand sanitizer and mask
Mask required sign
COVID test

The photos captured during my time in the schools show some lingering signs of the pandemic. But given the timing of the school visits, most of the images reflect the typical non-COVID related responsibilities of the school nurse. The school nurses rejoiced at finally having the time and the energy to focus on the activities and duties that made them want to become school nurses, creating a safe school environment in which every child has the ability to learn.

Students waiting in line outside the school nurse's office would not have been seen during the height of the pandemic. The school nurse's office was reserved for kids who needed to be examined to determine if they had symptoms of COVID. School nurses also had to rearrange school nurse offices and find spaces where ill students could be isolated until they could be sent home.

elementary students waiting in line outside nurse's office

Students wait outside Suzanne Brinkman's office at
Elementary Rock School

School nurse teaching students in classroom
School nurse, Kimberly Hess, teaches third graders at Parkway Elementary about germs.

Getting into a classroom to provide some health education, a joy of many school nurses, was not possible during the pandemic.

School nurse performing vision screen with student
School nurse, Suzanne Brinkman, performs a vision screen on a student

Most school nurses were unable to complete yearly screenings, such as vision screens, during the 2020-2021 school year. They were grateful that time and resources allowed for this important nursing service to be provided this year. 

School nurse, Lara Beranek, talks with a child
before performing a vision screen

School nurse talking with nursing students
School nurse, Charonda Farrington, talks with nursing students from Concordia University

School nurses frequently partner with colleges of nursing to provide clinical sites for community and population health nursing students. These collaborations had to be suspended during the 2020-2021 school year. Partnering with school nurses offers nursing students the opportunity to learn about concepts such as care management, emergency preparedness, pediatric illnesses and injury management, along with health policy. 
The Images Not Captured
This project provides a glimpse into several Wisconsin school health rooms but one of the limitations of this project is that I was unable to capture images of the “really behind the scenes” work that school nurses do. For example, these photos show school nurses meeting with students who have diabetes. The students and the school nurses are working together to calculate the number of carbohydrates in the students' lunch to determine the dose of insulin the students should receive.

School nurse calculating carbohydrate count with student
School nurse, Jenny Sauve, calculates the number of carbohydrates in a student's lunch
School nurse calculating carbohydrate amount with student
School nurse, Jennifer Marsh, calculates the number of carbohydrates in a student's lunch.

What you don’t see in this photo is the student’s individual health plan that the school nurse has spent hours developing. The photo does not capture the conversations that the school nurse has engaged in with the student, their family, and their healthcare provider, to identify student goals and measurable student outcomes. The pictures don’t show how each time the school nurse meets with that student to review their carbohydrate intake, assess their blood glucose reading, determine their insulin dose, and administer their medication, the school nurse is working with the student to increase their knowledge and their ability to manage their chronic health condition independently. The images do not capture the education and training that the school nurse has provided to the school staff who interact with the student on a daily basis, the education and training that ensures that the school staff know what to do if the student were to experience a diabetic emergency. Fortunately, some of the school nurses were able to articulate the complex role of school nurse in this video clip. 

Check out all the school nurse video and photo galleries.
Click on a photo below to access the nurse's gallery.  

Lara Beranek
Suzanne Brinkman
Charonda Farrington
Kimberly Hess
Jennifer Marsh
Emily Oium
Sue Richards
Jenny Sauve
Christin Strong

We would love to hear from you!
Thoughts on project

For questions regarding A Day in the Life: A Photo Essay of the Wisconsin School Nurses and the COVID-19 Pandemic, please contact the Project Director, Teresa DuChateau, at