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Inside the school nurse's office for School Nurse Day

Band-aids, ice packs and mints are what most school nurses are known for, but this description could not be further than the actual function of their role. School nurses are the voice of the health expert in the building,” Shauna Simpson, school nurse at Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School, said.

School Nurse Day is Wednesday, May 8. The day was established to relay a better understanding of the role of nurses in schools, according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). The week of May 6 through 12 is recognized as National Nurses Week with inclusion of National School Nurse Day introduced in 2003, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA). Through a partnership with the Charles County Department of Health, each CCPS school and center has a school nurse on site.

Rutkai, longtime school nurse

Shelley Rutkai, school nurse at John Hanson Middle School, has been with Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) for over 25 years and is of the longest standing nurses in the school system. She started her nursing career at United Medical Center, formerly known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, in 1980, but her journey in the medical field did not start there. At age 10 she witnessed the care that nurses gave toward her family member who was in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Greater Southeast. She was moved by it and wanted to do the same in the future.

“I remember thinking, ‘I want to grow up and do this’,” Rutkai said.

As soon as she graduated high school, she joined the nursing program at Catholic University of America. Her aunt attended the school as well and encouraged Rutkai to join the nursing program’s externship program. When she joined the program, she worked in the ICU at the hospital and noticed a familiar face. One of the nurses that tended to her family member was now her coworker in the same unit.

At Greater Southeast, Rutkai became a regular staff nurse and worked there until 1996. She noticed over time that a few of her work friends at the hospital were leaving. She asked one of her friends where she was going, and she said that she started working for CCPS in the nursing department. Not too long after Rutkai joined her.

A farewell

Rutkai started her journey with CCPS in 1996 at Mattawoman Middle School. She spent a short amount of time at the school when a need opened for a full-time school nurse position at Hanson. At the school, she turned an old assistant principal’s office into her nurse’s office. “I got an old bed from the gym, old desk full of papers, paper clips and pennies from the previous owner and rearranged the office to turn it into a nurse’s office,” Rutkai said. “I really love the job. It was a breath of fresh air to start working with students,” she said.

Rutkai also serves as the camp nurse with the Charles County Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism during Camp Co-op, a summer camp designed for CCPS students who are receiving special education services.

She has spent almost her entire school nursing career at Hanson and this year makes it her last as she plans to retire after the 2023-2024 school year ends. “The entire John Hanson community knows nurse Shelley and will miss her terribly,” Hanson Principal Ben Kohlhorst, said. “She cannot be replaced.”

Lisa Bazzarre, an Irish twin

Bazzarre, school nurse at North Point High School is no stranger to CCPS. She has been with the county since 1999 following her older sister, Rutkai, after both working at Greater Southeast Hospital. “I kind of followed my sister and I’m glad that I did because I loved helping people,” Bazzarre, said. Her and her sister are close in relation and in age being 10 months apart, making them Irish twins ­­­– siblings born within 12 months or less of each other, she said.

She also got her nursing degree at Catholic University of America and then worked at Greater Southeast with her sister, sometimes working right next to each other, for 15 years. Bazzarre started working for CCPS as the school nurse at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center, when it was the Charles County Career and Technology Center, right before she moved to North Point as the school nurse in 2005.

“I love the staff, the administration and the kids keep me young,” Bazzarre, said. Her favorite part about the job is helping people. “With the students I do a lot of teaching and educating. I enjoy it,” she said. Bazzarre remains among the few who are original staff members at North Point when the school first opened in 2005.

 “She’s a lot like me -- we are both dedicated,” Bazzarre said about her sister’s retirement. “She has been a good resource. I’m going to miss her.”

School nurse on the elementary level

If you walk into the nurse’s office at Brown, you will likely see Simpson helping a student with a medical issue. “I like that every day is different, I like watching them grow up,” she said. “Some of the kids that I helped are in their 20s and now their kids go here.” Simpson has been at Brown for nearly 16 years. She started with the county as a floating nurse assisting at multiple schools. She then transitioned into a job share where one of the nurses worked three days at the school and she worked two.

Once she finished her associate degree in nursing (ADN) and the former school nurse retired, she became the full-time nurse at Brown. “I love this school, the staff, population and community,” Simpson said.

She first attended college to major in early childhood education and quickly realized that she wanted to switch to nursing. For Simpson it was the best of both worlds, “a bit of teaching and the medical portion,” she said. “It was a really good fit.” She attended the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) to start her nursing school journey and received her BSN at University of Maryland Global Campus.

“We don’t just take care of students; we take care of everybody, whether you are a staff member, parent or person delivering milk to the school,” Simpson said. “We play such a big role and I wish that people understand the depth of the school nurse, everything that we do and why we are important in schools.”