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Embodying the Nursing Spirit

Lois ThompsonLike other certified school nurses, Lois Thompson felt worn down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Curiously, it also provided an emotional high point.


When Centre Volunteers in Medicine held pediatric vaccination clinics, State College Area School District nurses assisted the effort. Thompson savors the memory.


“It was so awesome when we started doing them,” she recalled. “We were in rooms with many of our colleagues in the community. Our kids were coming through, and we were doing this as a team. Huge! And every kid we vaccinated made every day at our schools better.”


That kind of success fuels Thompson, who serves Ferguson Township and Radio Park elementary schools, in a demanding job vital to students, staff and families. In fact, a favorite saying echoes her passion for school nursing: “Students must be healthy to be educated and educated to be healthy.”


“Bottom line, the most important part of our job is to help keep these kids healthy so they can learn,” she said.


According to her peers, she excels at her work. This month, she received the 2023 School Nurse Excellence Award for the North Central Region of Pennsylvania from the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners, making her eligible for a state school nurse of the year award.


Lois ThompsonNursing is a calling that is not confined to the hours at a job but rather a way of life-giving yourself to care for others, helping make someone's day a bit brighter or just spending time and listening to someone,” said Mount Nittany Middle School nurse Heidi Arruda, a district nursing team leader. “Lois embodies that nursing spirit. We are fortunate to have her on our healthcare team.” 


With almost 35 years in nursing and two Penn State nursing degrees, Thompson has plenty of experience. She brought a pediatric trauma background to SCASD in 1998, working as a substitute nurse before becoming a paraprofessional. In 2016, while teaching on the side at her alma mater’s nursing college, which she still does, she completed the advanced training for being a certified school nurse.


“It was the kids,” she said. “Not that I don’t enjoy teaching nursing students, because I really love that part, but I really love working with the kids and I didn’t want to get away from that.”


Out of their health rooms, Thompson and the district’s other eight certified school nurses fulfill many duties, assisted by paraprofessionals who are registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. There are the prominent ones — administering first aid, tending to illness, conducting examinations and screenings, dispensing medications, and maintaining health and immunization records.


But that’s just scratching the surface. 


Thompson may spend a morning working with the district family liaison/bilingual educator to translate health documents for immigrant families. Another day could include communicating back and forth with a children’s hospital about a student receiving treatment or caring for a student with multiple needs. Weekly, she sits on school support teams that create individualized education programs and service agreements for disabilities. In addition, she’s a liaison with community health providers to coordinate needed medical services for students.


Lois ThompsonOf all her responsibilities, she finds educating the most rewarding. The teacher in her loves explaining inhalers to students, for instance, or providing trusted health information to faculty and parents — so much, even last year couldn’t bring her down. It almost did. Surrounded by anxiety, struggling with thin staffing, she pondered retiring.


Life took turns for the better — subsiding COVID-19, a new assistant — and she’s back in the groove.


“I really love this job,” she said. “I love kids; I wouldn’t be a pediatric nurse if I didn’t. And this is where the kids are in our community, so I’m where I’m supposed to be.”


By Chris Rosenblum 

Photos by Nabil K. Mark