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Being a school nurse seems like one of those dream jobs. After all, how hard could it possibly be to clean a couple of cuts a day and put Band-Aids on them? All you’d have to do is wash the cut off, put some antiseptic on it, bandage it and off the patient goes, right?
It’s true that school nurses do perform those sorts of tasks, but there’s so much more to it than just slapping a Band-Aid on a cut; just ask Shirley Graziano. Graziano has been the school nurse at Aspen Elementary for the past 14 years, but she’s been in the nursing field since 1971.
“Before you become a school nurse, you need a background in nursing, surgical, critical and medical emergency care,” Graziano said. “You have to have a really broad background with a lot of experience.”
Graziano had an upbringing typical of a military family. Her father was in the Army, so she and her family moved around quite a bit. She lived in Japan, Hawaii and New York. She attended college in Chicago, Ill., where she obtained her associate’s degree.
She later met and married a scientist and the couple moved to Los Alamos when her husband took a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory. After her arrival in Los Alamos, Graziano went to work full-time at Los Alamos Medical Center. It was there that she gained most of her experience, working on different floors of the hospital. During this time, she also received her bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico.
After 16 years with LAMC, she was thinking of retiring, but a friend of hers talked her into taking a job as a school nurse. “I thought school nursing wasn’t going to be challenging. I found it to be the most challenging and worthwhile nursing job in the world because of the impact you make on families,” Graziano said.
Graziano said that being a school nurse is about educating students, as well as providing them with care. “It’s about teaching children healthy behaviors, like eating healthy and keeping themselves healthy,” she said. She’s also tasked with teaching sixth graders about sex education. “It runs the whole gamut,” Graziano said of her nursing duties. “You see the child from kindergarten through sixth grade and all the changes they go through.”
Graziano’s workday begins at 7:45 a.m. and runs through 3:30 p.m., when school lets out for the day. During that time, she will perform a multitude of duties, which entail everything from administering medication to taking care of sick and injured children.
However, her duties are not simply limited to tending to the sick or injured. She also talks with teachers and parents and addresses any problems that students might have, such as food allergies or chronic conditions like asthma. “It’s a very exciting job. Every day is different with different things to do,” Graziano said.
“Some people think that all I do is put Band-Aids on,” Graziano said. “I think I put two Band-Aids on today,” she said with a chuckle.
Children with chronic conditions who attend public school are becoming much more commonplace, Graziano said. “We have to meet all of their needs,” she commented. “We check and make sure all their medication is appropriate and they’re taking the right doses.”
She said that she finds the most rewarding part of her job to be the feedback she gets from parents, teachers and students, alike.
“Everyday is so rewarding. I had 10 hugs from children and five hugs from parents today,” she said. “The parents are so happy to have a nurse in the schools.”
She said that she has a good repoire with all the parents and they thank her all the time for the services and care she provides students.
When Graziano isn’t busy keeping students healthy, she enjoys gardening, going out to eat with friends and hiking the canyons of Los Alamos. “We’re so lucky to live here. I love living in Los Alamos. This is an ideal place to live,” she commented.
Though her children are grown and live out of state, Graziano also enjoys spending time with them and her grandchildren when she can. Her daughter, Sunshine, lives in Florida and has a 3-year-old and 7-year-old; while her son, Jay, lives in Nevada and has a 16-year-old and 15-year-old.
As for retirement, Graziano isn’t planning on hanging up her stethoscope anytime soon. In fact, she said she plans on being a school nurse until she can’t do it anymore.
“Working in an elementary keeps me young and active, so I can keep moving,” she said. “I love this job, I love the students, staff and families. The school staff works very hard. I love working with people who are so dedicated and work so hard,” she said.