Thrive by IU Health

May 12, 2022

‘Nurse Maddie’ cares for 522 ‘Grizzlies’ at Greenbriar Elementary

‘Nurse Maddie’ cares for 522 ‘Grizzlies’ at Greenbriar Elementary

It’s not bedside nursing. It’s a single-person clinic and no day is the same.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

On any given day, Madison Watson arrives at her Washington Township office to the unknown. In January, Watson became the school nurse at Greenbriar Elementary.

Home to the “Grizzlies,” the school has a population of 522 students. According to the Indiana Department of Education, nearly 70 percent are “economically disadvantaged.”

A native of Chicago’s western suburbs, Watson obtained her nursing degree from Loyola University. She joined IU Health last year working at Methodist Hospital in the surgical-trauma unit.

“I didn’t feel fulfilled. It felt like something was missing. When this job came open, I applied and I feel like this is where I’m meant to be,” said Watson, 23. She said she felt called to nursing because when she was younger, her mother was seriously ill and she observed the care she received from some wonderful nurses. She became a Certified Nursing Assistant in high school and decided that was her career path. The daughter of Phil and Anne Watson, she has one older and two younger sisters. When she came to Indianapolis to work at IU Health, she also met her fiancé.

On a recent Tuesday, Watson hit the ground running. She helped a young man take his diabetes medication, and another student take puffs from her inhaler. She gave an ice pack to a girl who was in pain from an orthodontic appointment, and helped a little boy find a pair of bigger shoes.

She answered questions from dozens of Kindergarten through fifth grade students, and made phone calls to parents of sick children. In between, her attention was focused on a free dental clinic for 60 students.

“Some days this job feels like part social worker and part nurse. It can be tricky because people don’t understand the ins and outs of school nursing and they think about bloody noses or cuts and bruises,” said Watson. “For me, it is about building a rapport with students who haven’t had consistent healthcare options,” said Watson. For some of those children, there is a single parent and maybe no older siblings to help them when they are hurt or sick.

The school nurse’s office becomes their primary source for health care.

“It was when I was looking at a student’s loose tooth that I saw a lot of rotten teeth and knew that the child had never been to the dentist,” said Watson. She secured a clinic to come on site to examine and clean the students’ teeth.

“When you ask a child when they last went to the dentist and they tell you they’ve never been, you quickly recognize the need,” said Watson. “I thought ‘what a privilege is was for me to have had regular dental and doctor visits that are the foundations of wellness.’”

Watson started her role at Greenbriar Elementary at a time when the Omicron virus was ramping up. “We were sending kids home when there was just a sniffle. It made it difficult to really focus on other issues,” said Watson.

“I think it is important to note that COVID has drastically changed the school nurse’s role over the past two years. School clinics are already busy places with caring for students with chronic needs and triaging illnesses and injuries in a ‘normal’ school year. COVID added an extra layer of complexity due to the need for more parent and staff education, more triaging of students that were ill, contact tracing, case management, hours of phone calls, and collaboration with school staff,” said IU Health School Nurse Manager, Danielle Green.

Watson was undeterred by the challenges. She continued looking and planning ahead for her student needs.

In addition to daily education about proper mask wearing, hand washing as part of the pandemic protocols, she has focused on other needs.

“I noticed a lack of education surrounding health and hygiene in general - whether it was teeth brushing or showering. A lot of the kids didn’t understand why it was important,” said Watson. Next year, she hopes to implement a program geared toward fourth graders as they transition to middle school.

In the Indiana Department of Education’s breakdown of the school’s diversity, it indicates 60.2 percent of the students are Black/African-American.

“On average African-American women begin their periods at an earlier age than white women so I’m also creating a trust with these young women to feel comfortable coming to me and to understand the ‘why’ behind it,” said Watson. She addresses her students with endearing terms and gives each one her undivided attention.

She regularly sees students who take medications for chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes. She also sees students with allergies. Part of her role includes offering staff instruction in students’ special needs such as proper administration of an EpiPen.

“I feel like I’m calling on all my nursing skills in this role,” said Watson. “It’s like a big part in bridging the gap between healthcare and education.”