A forum for front-line workers

Rutgers‒Camden educator offers support to fellow school nurses struggling with stress and anxiety during the pandemic

Nov. 19, 2021

By Jeanne Leong

School nurses have been on the front lines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, administering COVID-19 testing, tracking the results and performing contact tracing, among other duties.

Meanwhile, on another front, battles are being waged over parents’ demands to determine whether schools can require students to wear masks and be vaccinated.

These school nurses are now getting support of their own, thanks to the efforts of a Rutgers University–Camden clinical coordinator.

A vocal advocate for school nurses, Robin Cogan, the clinical coordinator of the Rutgers‒Camden school nurse program, hosts a virtual support group for these nurses throughout the United States, which focuses on keeping students safe, as well as a variety of critical issues related to COVID-19.

“Being responsible for the health and safety of students and staff has weighed heavily on school nurses,” says Cogan. “It is not in our nature to receive. We are usually the ones giving. That is not a healthy stance; we must also be able to receive. This support group is a safe space to have brave conversations about what we are feeling.”

Since October 2020, Cogan has held weekly peer-to-peer sessions on Zoom, where participants vent, offer solutions and empathize with each other about the demands of handling their standard and expanded duties.

In the hour-long sessions, participants talk freely about stress, an untenable workload and trying to keep up with the latest COVID-19 protocols and testing.

Cogan has noted repeatedly how the challenges that school nurses are facing this fall are compounded by the rising political battle over masks and vaccination requirements in schools.

Cogan says school nurses are acting as the de facto health department. She created the virtual sessions with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey and the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, along with a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to offer nurses an opportunity to care for their mental health.

Cogan, a facilitator of the group, is also benefitting from the sessions.

“We are sharing a collective traumatic experience,” says Cogan. “It’s encouraging to have this group to review the week and determine next steps or ways to cope that do not take me down a negative rabbit hole. I have learned from them to set strong guardrails and ask for help.”

“Front-line workers during the pandemic are heroes who need support. I applaud Robin Cogan for her work in caring for the mental well-being of school nurses,” says Rutgers‒Camden Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis.

A school nurse for 21 years, Cogan is a leading voice for school nurses and an advocate for children. Her blog, “The Relentless School Nurse,” shares school nurses’ stories from across the country.

Cogan was recently selected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN), one of the highest honors that can be bestowed in the field.

Cogan is among 225 fellows of the class of 2021, joining a small group of school nurse leaders inducted into the academy. FAAN selection criteria include contributions to nursing and health care, reducing health disparities and inequalities and influencing health policies and health care delivery.

Read more about Robin Cogan’s virtual support group in The New York Times.

Posted in: Community Outreach

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