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Diane Lightfoote named 2014 NYS School Nurse of the Year

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Jackson Heights School Nurse Diane Lightfoote says her best advice to parents is to keep their child home from school if they need a pain reliever like Tylenol or cough medicine to get them through the day. "Sometimes a day of extra rest is all the child needs to get better."

May 8, 2014 — Jackson Heights elementary school nurse Diane Lightfoote, RN, has been named the 2014 School Nurse of the Year by the New York State Association of School Nurses (NYSASN). The School Nurse of the Year award is given to just one school nurse in the state of New York each year who has the skills, strength and ability to excel as a leader among school nurses.

“Diane displays a devotion to advancing the profession of all school nurses and strives to provide evidenced-based clinical practice in her daily care,” said NYSASN Past President O. Jeanne Dolly in making the announcement. “We are lucky to have Diane as part of our team,” said Superintendent Paul Jenkins. “Her expertise and compassion have an impact on our students and staff members every day.”

Mrs. Lightfoote is a National Board Certified School Nurse who started in 1995 at Glens Falls Middle School, and has worked in Sanford Street School and Jackson Heights. “So many changes in health care have occurred,” she says, noting that vaccination requirements have increased significantly since she began. “Today we must track multiple diseases that require a minimum of 17 vaccinations—and the number of vaccinations is different for each grade level!” she says. An increased prevalence of food allergies now requires additional plans to prevent or respond to an allergic reaction.

While some may perceive school nursing as “easy,” a glance into the typical day for Mrs. Lightfoote reveals otherwise. On an average day, she speaks with parents of 38 students, administers 10 medications, leaves messages for doctors and more parents, and consults with teachers—while triaging a wide range of issues that may pop up.

“I have to rely on my diverse knowledge base, as I never know what will walk through my health office door next!” Mrs. Lightfoote says. “ It could be a simple abrasion, or a student who fell showing the early signs of a concussion. It could be a student who has been scratching her arm from dry skin, or it could be an allergic reaction. A student could be out of breath from running or experiencing an asthma exacerbation. A stomachache could turn out to be a referral to the doctor for a strep throat test, or it could be a sign of emotional turmoil or child abuse. With my nursing experience, I can do many assessments on the students as they walk into the health office. That helps me to triage, and decide who to attend to first.”

Mrs. Lightfoote says it’s rewarding to be able to educate young students. “I can show them how to sneeze appropriately and to wash their hands! I teach them how to take their medications appropriately, for example, how to use their inhalers, (many parents and children get a minimum training on how-to) so I can reinforce the proper technique appropriately. Helping the children become more independent is the goal.”

Regular vision and hearing screenings are also performed at every building. “School nurses are often the first to pick up that the student has a problem seeing and notifies the parent to schedule an appointment with an optometrist for possible glasses,” says Mrs. Lightfoote.

“My goal for the students is to feel well and stay in school to learn,” she says. “A well-known saying among school nurses is: A child must be healthy to learn and learn to be healthy.”

In addition to the great work she does for Glens Falls students every day, Mrs. Lightfoote has volunteered for NYSASN over several years in a range of capacities, and also trains other nurses for the National School Nurse Association’s “HANDS” program -- Helping Administer to the Needs of the student with Diabetes in School. She will be recognized nationally at the annual school nurses’ conference in June.

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