Minnesota Nursing magazine

School health leader paves way for healthy, lifelong learners

Heiman named School Nurse Administrator of the Year
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by: 
Brett Stursa

Mary Bielski HeimanMary Bielski Heiman

Mary Bielski Heiman’s nursing career includes being a pediatric certified nurse specialist in a hospital setting, a school nurse in the Minneapolis School District and a nurse administrator in both the Minneapolis and Edina school districts. “I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had during my nursing career,” said Heiman. “If I had to choose another profession, it would still be nursing.” Her achievements drew the attention of the School Nursing Organization of Minnesota, which named her the 2015 School Nurse Administrator of the Year. We asked Heiman, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, what the future holds for school nurses, what it takes to be an effective nurse administrator and how she’s avoided burnout.

As the health services coordinator for Edina Public Schools, you work with 15 school nurses throughout the district. What about your work do you think would surprise nurses who don’t work in school settings?

“I foresee that school nurses will be a more consistent player and collaborative provider within the medical home teams. School nurses are key to improving the health and academic outcomes of students.”We provide a broad range of health services beyond the stereotypical bandaid. In our district alone, our health staff recorded nearly 41,000 encounters with students for first aid, treatments and medication administration in the 2014- 2015 school year. We completed nearly 8,500 blood glucose checks for students with diabetes, screened more than 5,500 students for vision and hearing and nearly 91 percent of the students were sent back to class. It is important to keep them at school learning.

What do you think the most significant change in the role of a school nurse has been since you began your career?

The responsibility to safely meet the complex management needs of acute and chronic student health needs continues to rise in the schools. This includes life-threatening allergies, asthma, diabetes and children with special health care needs. Students attend school 10 months of the year, five days a week, seven hours a day. This equates to a lot of direct face-to-face service hours and continuity of care that requires collaboration and coordination with students’ families, care providers and classroom teachers.

What do you think makes an effective nurse administrator?

As a school health leader, I have to ensure that school nurses have the resources and knowledge to manage the needs of their students. For example, it is imperative that school nurses have the ability to work with classroom staff to understand how a student’s health concern, such as seizures or asthma, will impact a student’s school day.

How do you see the role of the school nurse changing in the future?

I foresee that school nurses will be a more consistent player and collaborative provider within the medical home teams. School nurses are key to improving the health and academic outcomes of students. I would like to see school nurse funding come from outside the walls of a school district. With creative support from health care plans and community agencies, school nurses will be reimbursed for ongoing student health education in areas such as asthma and diabetes during a school year. I see there will be growing evidence to indicate the positive outcomes on student health when there is a school nurse involved.

You’ve published numerous articles in professional publications. One of the topics you’ve written about is compassion fatigue and burnout. Are there coping strategies that you’ve used to help you avoid burnout?

I have learned to seek out a mentor or colleague who I can speak to about my work. I’ve encountered many complicated situations within my leadership and supervision roles. It is important to have someone who can listen. Mentors have helped me to stay positive, confident and inspired to do my work effectively. Overall, I’ve learned it is critical to have fun while at work and while not work, maintain a sense of humor and to exercise as much as possible. 

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