A steady flow of students filed through the Aberdeen High School health suite to see school nurse Robin Testerman.
One student complained of a migraine and asked for a note so he could sit out of gym class. A diabetic student came in for juice and crackers. And several students came in for their daily medication.
Others, like junior Quenique Newbill, came in just to chat with Testerman between classes.
"Many of the kids use my office as a safe haven," said Testerman after the health room cleared out. "As a result, I have to be a counselor ... a mediator, an advocate and a nurse for the students. They come to me with everything from career choices to serious medical conditions."
That holistic approach and range of abilities led to Testerman being named Harford's School Nurse of the Year recently by the county school system.
"Miss Testerman's heart won her the award, not what I wrote about her," said Quenique, a 16-year-old Aberdeen resident who nominated Testerman for the award. "Last year I busted my face open, and she knew I was doing something I shouldn't have been. She took care of me, then she lectured me on it and got me on the right path."
Despite common misconceptions, school nursing today is more than just giving a child a bandage or calling a parent to come pick up a sick child, Testerman said.
The job duties include health teaching, care of diabetics, assessments of asthmatics, treating food allergies, administering medication and counseling, said Susan Reiman, the school system's nursing coordinator.
"The school nurse is the first line of care that a family turns to," Reiman said. "We used to call the school nurse's office the `Monday Morning Clinic' because students would line up for assessments."
Reiman said the number of students who visit the school nurse shows the increasing faith that parents have in them.
"The parents send their child to see the school nurse to determine if the child needs to go to the doctor," Reiman said. "This shows the trust that exists, and it shows what a big role the nurses play in the health of the children at the schools."
Testerman decided to enter the field after watching a nurse care for her mother after surgery.
"Something inside me just clicked on that day," said Testerman, a Darlington resident.
She started her nursing career in 1975 after graduating from Harford Community College. She went to work as a maternal child health nurse at Harford Memorial Hospital.
In 1992, when her job became more administrative than hands-on, she decided it was time for a change.
"Registered nurses were delegating to technicians, and the job became about doing paperwork, not caring for patients," Testerman said.
She interviewed for a position as one of the county school system's 66 nurses and met all of the educational and experience qualifications. But Testerman also possessed the intangible qualifications that the county looks for when filling school nurse positions, such as compassion, a love of children and compatibility, Reiman said.
"We look for candidates that love nursing," Reiman said. "We look for nurses that can accept people for what they are regardless of their personal circumstances."
Testerman seems to have that ability.
She cares for teenagers dealing with problems ranging from anger management to pregnancy, which she says makes her job fulfilling.
"There is an unbelievable group of young people at Aberdeen High, many of which come from tough situations," Testerman said. "What could be more rewarding than helping a child that comes in to you after punching a wall and he opens up to you?"
Connecting with students makes the significant pay cut that accompanied her first school nurse job Dublin Elementary School seem inconsequential. She stayed at Dublin for six years and then moved to the high school.
"I decided to go on to the high school level, because I felt I could do more there," Testerman said. "When an elementary-age child gets sick, they want their mommy. And I like being able to talk to a student in a stern voice without making them cry."
She found her niche at Aberdeen High.
"I never know what will walk through the door on any given day," Testerman said. "No two days are exactly the same."
She also is energized by working with students on a longer-term basis, such as caring for and educating pregnant teenagers.
"Several young ladies each year come to me and tell me they are pregnant and they are afraid to tell their parents," Testerman said. "I try to educate them and help them eat right and make good choices for themselves and their unborn child."
Often the health office is the place for meetings with students and their parents to discuss the pregnancy and where the student can go for further help, Testerman said.
"Sometimes these young girls are scared to death they will be thrown out of the house," Testerman said. "But usually after the meetings they are able to rest easier, knowing that they still have a home and it will all work out."
VISITS TO THE NURSE
The following are statistics for visits to the 66 nurses in county public schools during the 2004-2005 school year.
Total visits: 358,156
Students who returned to class: 311,623
Acute illnesses (illnesses with recent onset): 133,689
Chronic illnesses (such as diabetes or asthma): 9,377
Acute injuries such as broken bones and scrapes: 51,790
Visits resulting in 911 calls: 143
Visits for mental or emotional health reasons: 2,820
Administering medications: 94,763
Treatments such as changing dressings on wounds: 16,882
Related to care plans for long-term care for diabetes, food allergies or asthma: 3,428