As children go back to school in the coming month, some parents are faced with handing off their diabetes care to someone else for the majority of the day, which could be a team of people that sometimes includes a school nurse. Parents may feel more comfortable doing so when those people demonstrate a true passion and dedication toward caring for children living with diabetes. Susan Kramer, RN, BSN, is just that kind of professional and to recognize her commitment, the Diabetes Partnership of Cleveland (DPC) and Laurel School, a private girls’ school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, awarded her the first annual Susan J. Kramer Award for Excellence in School Nursing.
Susan brings a variety of experience to her current school nursing career. After earning her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, Susan spent a few years working in a medical-surgical unit. Later she transitioned into teaching Diversified Health Occupations in a vocational education program, where she taught high school juniors the skills to be nursing, dental and medical assistants, and medical lab technicians.
After taking a break to stay home with her children, Susan started working at the Laurel School about 12 years ago. “I always say that when I went back to work, I gave up one daughter as she went to college and gained 650 daughters,” she laughed.
In her role as school nurse, Susan tries to teach the children to be independent in their personal healthcare. “I encourage them to talk about what’s wrong and how to evaluate if a health issue is serious or not,” she said. “I try to promote self-care and making good decisions, like not getting into an accident, for example. We talk about what kind of choices they could have made so they don’t end up in my office again.”
Susan has observed changes in the needs of school healthcare over the years. “To me, it seems like today’s youth face far more medical challenges than children 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago,” she said. “Today’s health issues seem more complex. In general, there has been an increase in severe allergies, asthma, mental health issues and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease. I feel like schools didn’t have to deal with nearly as many of these issues before. Now, no two days are ever alike in the life of a school nurse because you just never know what the next day is going to bring.”
Susan’s dedication to serving the sometimes complex needs of the children in her care led to receiving and being the namesake for the Excellence in School Nursing award in 2010. “It was a humbling experience for me,” she said. “Things like that usually don’t happen until late in your career. To be recognized like this early in a career was just totally overwhelming.”
One purpose of the award is to recognize and thank school nurses for their dedication and service to the children in their care. “The award was initiated by Dr. Karen Horowitz and Jeffrey Kahn, a set of parents here at our school whose daughter lives with type 1 diabetes,” she said. “They established this award in my honor based on seeing what a school nurse does to help make their child successful in their diabetes management while at school.”
The other purpose of the award is to raise funds for the Camp Ho Mita Koda School Nurse Campership Fund sponsored by the DPC. “It’s a summer camp for children who live with diabetes,” she explained. “Through this award people can contribute money to help send kids to this camp. It’s a really wonderful experience that teaches children how to manage diabetes in their daily lives while participating in fun outdoor activities.”
Susan has developed a unique approach to handling emergency diabetes care situations at her school, which she calls her Diabetes Management Team. “Several years ago I had to help a child with a broken arm in a PE class while a girl living with type 1 diabetes was experiencing low blood sugar,” she said. “I couldn’t be in two places at once. So I have extensively trained several administrators in diabetes management. I update them every year on the current students and their diabetes care plan. So in the event of an emergency, I can call any one of these administrators and ask them to try to help manage the child’s diabetes until I can get there.”
To make the most of their relationship with the school nurse, Susan encourages families to take an active role in their child’s diabetes management while at school. “The parents need to come prepared with as much information as possible about their child,” she said. “They can usually get customized care plans from their physician or endocrinologist. Working together, we may be able to develop an effective diabetes care plan to help manage that child’s diabetes while they’re with us at school for those eight hours. It’s a multi-step process, including diabetes management goals set by the child’s full healthcare team. That may help the parents feel more confident that the child is going to get the care they are used to having at home.”
School nurses also need to be proactive about the care of children living with diabetes, according to Susan. “Each child is different,” she said. “Diabetes is not a cookie cutter condition, so nurses need to listen to the family needs to better customize the care plans for each child. School nurses also need to be their own advocates to their boards of education to make sure that nurses stay in the schools to help these kids with chronic health conditions.”
Susan is an inspiring example of a healthcare professional whose passion and dedication to her work has yielded innovative results. Our thanks to her for sharing her story.
Head of Patient Insights, Sanofi US Diabetes
Disclosure: Susan Kramer received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.