For nearly two decades, Zully Brons-Bailey worked simultaneously as a school nurse and a hospital nurse in the Bronx. Now serving 640 students in grades pre-K through 8 at the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx, she tackles everything from routine care to medical crises.
What led you to nursing?
I wanted to be a nurse from the 6th grade. It was the only profession I considered going into. Meeting people at their weakest moment and being able to take care of them — it feels like I’m working but not working, because caring for people is the easiest thing to do.
Why is it important to have a nurse in the school building?
I do a lot of preventative care, trying to care for kids before they get sick, making sure their immunizations and physicals are up to date. There are also children who require medical services that teachers can’t provide. I can have anything from a G-tube feeding to oral medication to asthmatics that require suctioning to kids who need catheterization. If there’s not a nurse in the building, that child can’t be in school.
What’s a typical day like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day! It’s so unpredictable. I can go from 0 to 1,000 in two seconds flat. When there’s a crisis in the school building, people come to the nurse for everything, and I have to be ready to face anything.
What are some of those crises you’ve faced over the years?
I had a kid who had been sliding down the banister fall over it two stories, from the fourth floor to the second floor. He broke his arm and his leg, and by the grace of God he didn’t hit his head on the way down. That was the worst in my career. Another kid tried to jump over the railing in the schoolyard and slammed into the concrete, lacerating his liver. In those situations, everybody has a role to stabilize the student until you’re able to get emergency medical services on the premises, because in a school we have no ability to sustain life other than CPR. I have to be ready to activate the building response team, call for help, alert security and also stay with my patient.
What do you bring to a school in terms of medical expertise?
We’re bound by state standards, regulations and protocols. Everything is about the safety of our children. We must do medically what our judgment call dictates, even if it’s not the way the principal or another layperson would see it. We act according to what will assist the child. We’re here to make sure that every child is treated with respect and dignity when it comes to health issues and medical concerns. Parents want to know that their kids are safe all day. It’s very important for me to be here because as the day gets started, we have no idea what we’re going to face.
How do you interact with the rest of the school’s staff?
I do a lot of education. Teachers need to be made aware of HIPAA law and what information they’re entitled to and not entitled to about their students. Sometimes it’s about reassurance and allaying their fears about something like exposure to certain illnesses — being firm at times because some fears are irrational! If an illness or injury occurs — say, something like a kid who gets his arm wedged in the banister after sliding down it — and everybody’s in a panic, I want to make the staff understand that their response and the vibe they give off can either keep a kid calm or freak them out.
How has being a school nurse changed over the years?
We do more patient teaching, not only with students but with staff, things like using an EpiPen for allergic reactions and diabetes training to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia. We’re teaching staff to be hands-on: If you’re on a field trip and a student is exposed to an allergen, you know what to do. Nurses have also become a more integral part of the building. We have lockdown drills, fire drills and evacuation drills, and nurses play an integral part in that.
Looking forward, I’m hoping to be able to continue to implement school-based health services that the community deems warranted, because sometimes there’s a social issue with families — like a kid needs glasses and the family can’t afford them.
Essential school nurses
One of the most important lessons learned from the pandemic is that having a nurse in every school is vital to the well-being of our students.