More Than Just a Nurse

Published on June 17, 2019

For Gladys "Gigi" Bate, being the nurse at Yorktown High School is about more than nursing. It's about getting back to the career that was part of her original life plan, educating and serving the Arlington community, and being around students that she so admires. Bate was recently honored by the Arlington County Board with an ACES (Arlington County Employee Successes) award for outstanding service to the County. Before she retired at the end of the school year, Bate sat down to talk about her work.

Q: What is your role with the Arlington Department of Human Services and how does that relate to working in Arlington Public Schools?

A: My main role with Arlington County Department of Human Services is as a nurse, working at Yorktown High School. I've worked in a bunch of different schools—elementary, middle, high school, and I just love the high school kids. I've been at Yorktown off and on for 7 of the 12 years I've worked in Arlington County. I had three years in the teen parenting program, as a nurse there, then I was lucky enough to be able to come back to Yorktown.

Q: What was your professional background before coming to Arlington County?

A: I was a manager at U.S. Air from 1977 to 1990, after the birth of my first child. I was the manager of the cargo claims department. It was a lot of customer service. When I was 50, I became a nurse. I had stayed home with my children, which I consider my second career, for 15 years. And I was going to school the whole time. I took all kinds of classes—psychology, communications, singing—anything I wanted. Then, when the kids were older, and college was looming we decided we needed another income to help pay for college. I went to career counseling and decided I wanted to become a nurse, which I'd wanted to do back in the day but just never did.

Q: What are your main responsibilities as a public health nurse at Yorktown?

A: I feel like the most important thing we do is to keep students with serious health conditions safe in school. I also provide a lot of health education to students, parents and staff. For most students, if there was not a school nurse or clinic they might be sent home for minor complaints like stomachache or headache and then miss instruction time. We can let them rest and we can encourage them to go back to class. Without the school nurse it would be the administration's responsibility or the teacher's responsibility to figure out how to negotiate that.

The school health aides are in general responsible for the day-to-day activities of the clinic like basic first aid, taking temperatures, or allowing rest for stomach aches or headaches. If a student has something else more complicated going on, I assess them to see whether they need to go to the doctor or emergency room immediately or we need to call the parent. Our nursing practice does not include diagnosis, but if I suspect something is going on that needs medial evaluation, I let the parent know.

"I empower students to take responsibility for their own health if I can ... I try to teach the students how to self-advocate for their health."

Q: What's a typical workday like for you?

A: It really depends on the time of year. In the beginning of the school year, we are doing a lot of administrative work. I do a lot of updating of health conditions, making sure that all the kids with serious health conditions—in general it's asthma, severe allergies, but we also have kids with seizure disorders and diabetes—we make sure their health conditions are updated in the system and that the teachers have access to who is in their classroom, what the condition is, and what they can and should do to help. The state also mandates hearing and vision tests for kindergarten, third grade, 7th grade and 10th grade. So 500+ kids at Yorktown alone have to have hearing and vision tests. Anyone who fails I refer for services. I follow up with each student, making sure that kids who don't have resources get free glasses or a hearing exam if needed.

Q: What are some of the non-public, student-facing things you work on?

A: A big part of my job is immunization assessment and making sure the kids have all the immunizations they need for school. I work in the immunization clinic, and I also immunize here in school. Usually I refer them to the Arlington County public health clinic where all the immunizations that are required for school are free. School nurses work in that immunization clinic on Tuesday nights. I've been doing that for a long time, and I think it is a really important part of our job.

Q: How do you feel your work makes a difference for not only the students that you serve but also their families and the general community in Arlington?

A: I think it's comforting for students, staff and parents to know there is an RN in the building. I educate people. Every day I am teaching someone something. Whether it's medication policy in high school, or kids with diabetes who need support. I empower students to take responsibility for their own health if I can. Parents, completely understandably, try to protect their children and stand up for them, rather than having their children stand up for themselves. I encourage students to go to the teacher, talk to the nurse, talk to who they need to, and get them used to doing that. I try to teach the students how to self-advocate for their health.

"Without the school nurse it would be the administration's responsibility or the teacher's responsibility to figure out how to negotiate [students' health]."

Q: What excites you most about the work that you do?

A: The kids.  The students. I just love them. I like to help them obviously, that's part of my job, but really what I like is seeing them interacting with each other. I love watching a good teacher engage with students. I frequently walk around the school, look in the classroom, and see kids really engaged with good teachers and they're trying to learn—and I love it.

Q: What is your favorite thing about living and working in Arlington County?

A: I like that Arlington tries hard to do the right thing. It is so tricky, and I see things that I'd like to see done differently, but I like that the heart is in the right place in Arlington, especially with environmental policies and taking care of kids. I'm very happy that I've lived here since I graduated from college in 1977. I'm in general happy with the changes, as we are becoming more urban, and I love our diversity. I've loved living in Arlington for a long time.