Eastside nurse finds community and purpose in school nursing

Published 9:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2023

Most people agree that nurses are heroes, especially after the struggles that happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But to Eastside Elementary School nurse Sarah Bryan, the real heroes are the individuals in the community she serves. 

Bryan, inspired by her mother and grandmother, came to the nursing profession with the goal of helping people and fostering relationships. Originally from Birmingham, she began her career in the hospital setting. 

Though she knew she was making an impact on her patients, she began to feel a disconnect and felt starved for community. 

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“I basically ate, slept and went to work,” Bryan said. “I didn’t get to be part of my community in Birmingham.”

When she got married in 2017, Bryan and her husband, Jeremiah, moved to his hometown of LaFayette. Pretty soon, she realized she had found a community that she could proudly grow with.

“They just have this welcoming, opening, loving atmosphere here — It’s awesome,” Bryan said. 

As she and her husband renovate their home in LaFayette, Bryan has been cultivating connections and building links with her new community and her new patients. 

“Eastside and the LaFayette community is going through a lot of changes right now, and it’s cool to see them,” Bryan said. “It’s cool to be at the beginning of it and see it coming, especially from an outside perspective, because I’m not from here.”

As a school nurse, Bryan has learned that relationships with students are very important and that it takes about a year to learn each student’s needs. She said she has learned that she likes to be more patient-focused. 

“I just get to have a relationship with these kids, and hopefully, that will lead to more heartfelt conversations that they will take my words and try to apply them to their lives,” Bryan said. “And so I really love this job for that.”

Bryan worked for the school system throughout the pandemic and gained firsthand experience with preventative care. She said COVID-19 taught school nurses how fast things can escalate in a school setting.

“It used to be our role as a school nurse was making sure kids stayed in school, and then we kind of had to flip it around and be more preventive,” Bryan said. 

Her experience as a school nurse has given her insight into community health nursing and its importance. 

“That’s the great thing about nursing,” Bryan said. “You never stop learning about yourself. You never stop learning about humanity and how precious it is, how tragic it is and how beautiful it is.”

Bryan recalled getting a note from a student that said, “Thank you for helping me breathe.” Even though the student only had wheezing, the note made Bryan realize how scary it must have been for the child. 

Bryan hopes the next focus will be on helping children feel safe and less fearful as the threat from the pandemic subsides.

“Trying to prevent infection in a school setting is like nailing jello to the wall,” Bryan said “As a country and as a county, I feel like we gave each other a lot of grace those two years. But now we need to get focused back on making sure these children aren’t getting scared every time they have a stuffy nose, sore throat or anything like that.”

Bryan came into school nursing from a job where she felt starved for community, only to be welcomed into a community full to bursting with connections. Eastside Elementary has felt like a family when she needed it most.