We had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Duval County Public Schools School Nurse and Hazel Health Initiator Barbara Fontana, LPN. Barbara is an experienced nurse with a huge heart for serving students.
As a Hazel Initiator, Barbara is responsible for connecting students (with guardian permission) to Hazel Health visits when they need medical care at school. Barbara ensures students are comfortable and set-up properly for their visit with the Hazel provider. She collaborates with the provider to get the student the care they need, so the student can return to class, ready to learn.
As we spoke with Barbara, it was evident how important she is to her school community! Her approach to each situation reflects a unique blend of urgency and grace, highlighting her commitment to the well-being of every student in her community.
Q: What is your background? Walk me through your journey to becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and School Nurse.
A: I became a mother at a young age and had four children, keeping me occupied with motherhood. Unfortunately, my mother passed away suddenly when I was in my 30s, and my kids were still very young. I witnessed the exceptional medical care she received during her illness, particularly from hospice nurses, and that inspired me!
After overcoming the initial grief, I decided to pursue a career in nursing. My initial goal was to become a hospice nurse, but I ended up in elementary school nursing and loved every aspect! It’s surprising how life led me here, but I am grateful for the journey.
Q: Why did you choose a career in K-12 health?
A: I initially worked in long-term care, specifically with the geriatric population. While it was a valuable learning opportunity, my heart was not fully invested in that field. The constant presence of sadness and death took a toll on me, and I realized it wasn’t the right fit.
In an interesting turn of events, I got sick on a trip to Alaska. I had to take a leave of absence from work, and after undergoing surgery and recovering, I stumbled upon a newspaper article advertising 15 new school nurse positions in my county. The thought of school nursing had never crossed my mind before, but after discussing it with a nurse friend over lunch one day, I decided to apply. I got the job, and it was a wonderful, unexpected shift in my nursing career. My heart expanded with the kids, and I knew immediately this was where I was meant to be!
Q: What is your day-to-day like as an LPN in Duval County?
A: My daily routine is pretty hectic! I start the day with parents often waiting to discuss medication during the morning drop-off. Kids who might have gotten sick on the bus or aren't feeling well are arriving. Some children haven’t had breakfast, so I provide them with a snack and ensure they have what they need to start their day. Following that, I focus on caring for a diabetic student, spending a significant portion of my time with him, especially in the mornings and afternoons when he’s in class. It’s a very busy clinic, and I handle each situation as it arises.
Q: How did you feel when Hazel Health launched at your school?
A: Initially, I was quite skeptical about the new program. I had some interest, but I wasn’t sure how it would function. However, my perspective changed when a representative from Hazel came to set up the program, explain everything thoroughly, and demonstrate how the technology worked. That’s when I felt comfortable and excited about the potential impact.
Hazel’s approach to addressing the entire well-being of the students, rather than just physical ailments, captivated me. It allowed me to understand the underlying issues affecting the students. Despite my concerns during the initial stages and the challenges of implementing a new virtual program amid a pandemic, the rollout was smooth and exceeded my expectations.