Do you ever wonder if your nursing efforts truly make a difference in someone's life?  As we put our heart and soul into our work, does it sometimes feel thankless and unappreciated?  At times, most nurses have these thoughts and may feel like we give so much of ourselves to our patients without acknowledgment that our work has been of benefit.

As a school nurse who took her job very seriously, I loved my young patients and tended to them as if they were my own.  However, the children and families I poured my greatest effort into sometimes seemed indifferent to my dedication to help them achieve optimum health.

We, nurses, do not go into this profession for a pat on the back and I did not expect notes and flowers for my efforts on behalf of my charges.  However, we hope that what we do makes a positive impact and appreciate being acknowledged for our hard work as a means to quantify our value as a nurse.

A Child in Need

I am fortunate to be a part of a nursing story dear to my heart.  This account has bolstered my passion for nursing and has made me appreciate that I make a difference while working in this great profession.  

I am pleased to share a story about a boy named Chris, whose gratitude was expressed well after our time together where I was the nurse at his elementary school. 

In 5th grade, Chris began to routinely present himself at the school nurse's office for vague complaints of headaches or bellyaches.  As a seasoned nurse, I knew that children come to the health room for various reasons.  

Sometimes, a child is not truly ill, and the nurse needs to ascertain if there are other issues surrounding the need to see the nurse.  Aside from trying to get out of gym class or miss a test, are there emotional causes that need attention?  Is the child being bullied, having problems at home, or dealing with PTSD, depression, or ADHD?  

There are a myriad of reasons why a child may have vague health discomforts or want to escape from school.  Although we want children not to take advantage of the nurse's office and stay in class, a school nurse should not overlook what may be going on in the background of a "frequent flier".

After a few visits to the health office, it became clear that Chris was not truly ill.  He may have suffered from a bit of a headache, but usually, he felt better after a few minutes of rest on a cot.  What he was mainly interested in was talking with me.  A quick check-in on how his day was going and a few pleasantries were all this young man needed to”feel better” and go back to class.

Over time, we developed a working relationship.  At this point, Chris felt comfortable disclosing some serious home issues causing him great anxiety.  When he felt overwhelmed, he developed a headache or just felt that he needed to escape from the classroom as it was all too much for him to handle.

After consulting with our school counselor and his parents, I developed a plan for Chris when he felt nervous and unable to deal with school.  Chris could visit the nurse's office as needed to lay down briefly or check in with me.  However, he could not use this privilege to miss a test and needed permission from his teacher to leave class. 

This respite was not meant to be for hours, and fortunately, Chris did not take advantage of his time out of class.  After a few months, our visits lessened, and Chris seemed to flourish at school.  By the end of the school year, I rarely saw him.

Chris went onto middle school the following year, and I was busy with the next years’ children and their medical complaints.


A Surprise Email of Gratitude

Fifteen years after Chris graduated from elementary school, I received an email that began with the words, "You probably don't remember me".  I was surprised to see that it was a note from Chris, who I indeed did recall. 

Chris started by saying that he appreciated all of our talks at school and said that his last few years in elementary were tough times for him.  He thanked me for being there for him and allowing him respite during his trials with anxiety and feelings that were hard to handle.  He said that I was a life-saver for him, and he will always recall my kindness to him when he needed it the most.

Chris went on to state that he is a grown man now and is doing well.  He pointed out that some of the stress-relief techniques that I taught him had been highly effective throughout his life.  He again expressed his gratitude for all that I had done for him at such a young age.

We Do Make a Difference!

I will always treasure this email.  Knowing that I made a difference in one child's life is enough to last me a lifetime in nursing.

The story of the star fish will always spur me on to keep giving and hoping that I can contribute to the well-being of my patients, one child at a time.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”


photo of author Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN

Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN

Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience.  She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic and as an RN in home health, rehabilitation, hospital, and school nursing.  She utilizes her personal experiences to write from the heart for various health publications, including BLOGS, newsletters, and educational materials and videos. 

Donna is passionate about the profession of nursing and supporting others.  As a regular contributor to Genes2teens, a parenting publication, and various health agencies and universities, Donna stays busy educating others with her health content.

A Pennsylvania native, Donna, loves to explore new places with her husband, “glamping” and spending time with her two daughters and large and extended family.