Joyce Pulcini Photo By Justin Knight
To find out, Pulcini and a team of researchers started from the top. Using several criteria, they evaluated winners of state and national school nurse awards and ascertained the personal and professional characteristics shared by those who received the honors. The team published its findings in the Journal of School Nursing, with Pulcini serving as lead author of an article.
"The demands on school nurses have increased," said Pulcini, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner who has played a major role as a leader for advanced practice nursing and for children's health. "The large influx of special needs students with medical requirements as well as the increase in mental health issues among students are some of the difficult challenges facing school nurses."
School committees, superintendents and parents need to realize the important work done by school nurses, says Pulcini, and the value a proficient, professional nurse can add to a school community.
Pulcini and her colleagues say the best nurses' top personal traits are communication skills, honesty, trustworthiness and a caring attitude. Their professional traits include confidentiality and expertise, the ability to handle emergencies well, a strong focus on, and a willingness to advocate for, children.
The researchers initially studied 10 New York State School Nurse of the Year winners from 1986 to 1998, examining their portfolios and conducting focus groups and open-ended interviews. They tested their findings on an expanded basis by querying nominees from across the country for the National Association of School Nurses' School Nurse of the Year.
Pulcini and her co-authors grouped the identified characteristics into broad categories, such as mastery of child health nursing from both a scientific and non-scientific perspective, effectiveness in school and community systems, excellence of communication skills and leadership qualities.
Pulcini says she was struck by the school nurses' high level of professionalism - 70 percent of the New York winners surveyed had master's degrees, she notes. She also said that many school nurses viewed their position as the lone health care provider in a school "not as isolating, but as a challenge and an opportunity to be creative."
Pulcini says she hopes the study can be used to help develop graduate level educational programs for school nurses and measure exemplary nurse practice, and as a means by which educators can devise strategies for collaborating with school nurses.
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