January 14, 2002 - Albany Times Union: RPCV Susan Martin works in Intensive Care for Students

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Reference: Special Interests: Education and the Peace Corps: January 14, 2002 - Albany Times Union: RPCV Susan Martin works in Intensive Care for Students

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RPCV Susan Martin works in Intensive Care for Students





Read and comment on this story from the Albany Times Union on RPCV Susan Martin and her work with students as a school nurse at:

Intensive care for students *

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Intensive care for students

Jan 14, 2002 - Times Union-Albany NY Author(s): Lyrysa Smith Staff Writer

The telephone rings while Susan Martin finishes treating a wheezy asthmatic boy. Nearby are five fidgety pre-kindergarten students about to have their ears and eyes tested. She dries the now- disinfected hands of a boy who found a dead bird on the way to school, then calmly answers the phone on the third ring.

It's hectic. But Martin, the school nurse at Giffen Elementary School on South Pearl Street in Albany, is fluid, focused and breathing smoothly, as if she's doing tai chi in a busy ER.

She's got one word to describe her work at the school.

"Intense. You have to like intense," says Martin, who must prioritize students' care needs and, on most days, struggles to keep up. "Everyday I've got to land here feet anchored, positive and ready to flow."

Martin has been a public health nurse for more than 30 years, and has worked at Giffen for the past seven years.

"The biggest misconception about school nurses is that all we do is Band-Aids," says Martin. "For starters, we test all the grades every year -- eyes, hearing, height and weight -- so we can identify problems early and help the family get treatment for the student. We want to make parents and teachers aware of any health issues for the children."

But discovering a health problem is only the beginning. Many families in the neighborhood don't receive regular medical care or have health insurance. It is a transient population, too. More than 40 percent of Giffen's 600 students turn over each year.

"It can make it very difficult to keep track of students' health care," says Martin, who also teaches health classes at the school. "I just get a child's needs identified and begin finding ways to help the family get services or medications -- and they move again."

In truth, Martin goes beyond Band-Aids all the time. "A school nurse, especially in an area like this, is public health work. I do prevention, early intervention, mental health, social work and counseling. I deal with employment issues and housing needs," says Martin. "We're a full service operation here. We have a clothes closet if a child needs clothing, and food in the fridge he's hungry. I just help get obstacles out of the way so children and families can be healthier."

Giffen Elementary is Albany's highest poverty school, a hot spot for asthma with more than 10 percent of the students receiving regular treatments, and surrounded by violence and crime all too often. When something happens on the street, the school staff knows it right away because the kids are deeply effected, says Martin. "You feel it when you walk in the building the next day, like a presence."

Children carry their problems to school and can't concentrate when they're unhappy and not feeling well, says Martin. "They'll complain of headaches or stomach aches, but if I dig down a little bit, I often find emotional stress. When I treat them and see them improve and feel ready to learn, that's the payoff. That's my reward."

Martin, who hails from Queens, has shaped her career around challenging experiences. Martin spent two years as a public health nurse in Kenya with the Peace Corps. Then she worked in western Alaska for 15 years, traveling by small plane and dog sleds across the tundra to deliver health care to remote Eskimo villages near the Berring Sea.

"I've always had a taste for adventure, but it's always about public health for me," says Martin. "It's very rewarding to feel that I'm putting my best skills to work in a very needy situation. I can't fix everything by any means, I have lots of failures. But it feels really good to use all of my skills, which I do with this job constantly. I see how I can help and I do it."



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