Part five of our week-long series highlighting the amazing work our nurses do every day.
Sue Templin, RN – Making Government Work
Sue Templin has worn many hats in her more than 40 years as a nurse, but her current role is the one she feels most people are the least informed about. Many don’t even know it exists (and for a short while it didn’t), but a School Health Consultant is a key resource when it comes to providing care for the nearly 2 million students currently enrolled in Pennsylvania schools.
“I consult with and provide technical assistance for school nurses, school administrators and the public when they have concerns about issues that impact student health and school-aged children in Kindergarten through 12th grade in Pennsylvania,” she explained.
Templin started young –- as a teen volunteer for her local ambulance company — and before long she was teaching the first aid class at the tender age of 17. Thanks to the influence of some family members and friends of the family who also happened to be nurses, Templin decided to enroll in Penn State and graduated with a Baccalaureate in nursing in 1974. She’ll celebrate 41 years as a nurse in August.
For the past four decades, Templin has worked in a myriad of settings: psychiatric, MedSurg, community health, the VA, in-patient, community hospice, and even classroom teacher among others.
“Everything that I’ve ever done in nursing has been so gratifying I don’t think I can ever choose one thing that was my most favorite,” she said. “I have loved all of it. I love the fact that there’s so much variety.”
Her current role as School Health Consultant falls under the Bureau of Community Health Systems, which provides most of the direct public health services to residents.
Templin is one of two go-to people for school nurses and administrators who need support or assistance in providing services for school-aged children. Many times, that includes interpreting both state and federal regulations and advising schools on compliance.
“We’re not attorneys, but the Pennsylvania Department of Health is the governing body that is responsible for mandating the school health services to all school children of Pennsylvania,” she explained. “We are the piece of the government that has to make sure the schools are providing services and doing it according to the law.”
Templin may not be a lawyer, but she and her cohort are well-versed in their field.
“We know healthcare,” she said. “We know kids; we know nursing. I know education. I was selected for my job because I had also been in the public school system, so I know the language. I’m not afraid to talk to principals and superintendents when there are issues.”
So what sorts of issues come across Sue’s desk?
“You can’t even imagine the bazillion questions people have,” she laughed. “Some of it’s not black-and-white. It requires a degree of interpretation. That interpretation comes from the division office where the department of health has attorneys and nurses that look at the big issues.”
Now that spring is in full bloom, one of those issues that continue to pop up is field trips.
“Field trips are extensions of the classroom,” she explained. “So all districts are obligated to provide the same level of services to the students regardless of where that classroom setting is located.”
But the reality of the situation is that many schools have only one nurse serving one or two school buildings and up to 1500 students. That leaves some hard choices for school administrators. And that’s why school nurses are so important said Templin.
“The school nurse is often the only person with a medical background and a medical license in a school setting, she said. “The administrators who are the decision-makers have no healthcare background, so their decisions aren’t always going to be in line with what best practice in healthcare would be. It’s my role to advise the school.”
Templin shares that role, and the six regions the state is divided into, with one other person at the moment. The pair have only recently returned to their positions after being “displaced” by former Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to cut Department of Health services by closing more than half the state centers and furloughing dozens of nurses. Templin was one of them.
“[My] role went away and the schools had nowhere to turn,” she remembers. “They were reaching out to the remaining state health centers. I don’t think anyone in the bureau understood how specialized this area is, because they weren’t always able to answer the questions that I and my other five colleagues would handle.”
Templin was reinstated after SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania sued the Corbett Administration over the plan and brought the case to all the way to the State Supreme Court and won.
“If it wasn’t for SEIU, I would have been forced to leave a job that I loved,” she said. “For many of the roles that I’ve done in nursing I’ve been represented by a bargaining unit. I was more fortunate than some of the other nurses.”
Given her long and varied career and some of the challenges she’s faced, one might wonder if she has any regrets about a career in nursing.
“A lot of people ask nurses, ‘Would you do it again or would you advise young people to go into nursing?’” she mused. “And I would say yes, because there is such a variety of opportunity out there. You can branch out. That’s what I love about it.”