Secondary Campus News

Meet District Nurse Andrea Lewis: "I kept thinking I wanted to help people on a deeper level."

Posted on: May 16, 2016 12:00 am

Andrea Lewis has an aura of calm about her that makes Finneytown secondary students feel everything is going to be OK. It's a byproduct of her nursing degree, innate sense of competence, and years of being a mom. It's also why -- in her first year as Secondary Campus nurse -- she's impressed everyone.

You’ve been at Finneytown since February 1, and oversee the district’s health services. What’s the most satisfying part of your job so far?

Just connecting with the kids and being here for them if they need me. I like providing a soft place to fall if they are having a bad day and making them feel better if I can.

(After multiple stops-and-starts to the conversation.) The nurse’s station is really hopping. How many students do you see in a day?

A good average is 20.

What’s the routine when a student comes to see you?

I keep a log of students, so I find out who they are, find out what the complaint is and ask some questions to figure out a possible cause, such as did you eat breakfast or do you take any medications? It's important to know if they've eaten and are drinking plenty of water. I try to find out if there’s something I can help them with to get them back to class.  And most kids are able to go back to class.

Helping students is your first priority and obviously your passion. Tell us about some of the other work –- the behind-the-scenes work –- a school nurse does.

I am very detail oriented and I enjoy organization. You definitely have to have the mindset to be ready for anything and being organized helps. Things can happen fast, and with a lot of kids coming in, it's important to make sure I have everything I need and know where to find it.  Keeping the student's records up-to-date, managing medications and general paperwork are a big part of the job.

You’ve lived, worked and volunteered in other school districts. In terms of emotional and physical health, do you see some advantages here at Finneytown?

I think it’s an advantage that Finneytown is a small community and very walkable. A lot of kids do walk to school here, which is a great way to start the day. Most school districts don’t have that –- most kids are bused to school. I also really see a staff that cares and works well together. They’re here because they want to be here, and really care about the kids and making a difference in their lives. That’s the kind of place I’ve wanted to work in, and that’s why I’m excited to be here. It’s a big difference-maker.

 How did you decide to go into nursing?

I had a really bad car accident as a 17-year-old. I was taken by Air Care and hospitalized for about a week. During recovery, I spent a lot of time with a physical therapist who inspired me to first think about nursing and helping others. He had been permanently injured and lost his ability to walk after being accidentally shot with a gun as a child. Still he was always upbeat and happy and seemed to love helping others despite his own challenges.  This really made a big impression on me.  Later I began working in customer service for a cellular phone company and enjoyed working with people and solving problems, but kept thinking I wanted to help people on a deeper level. Nursing had always appealed to me when I'd visit a friend or family member in the hospital. This was especially true when my mom had breast cancer and chose to fight and survive it by having a double mastectomy.  I saw first-hand how the nurses took care of her and felt that nursing might be a good fit for me.

You did some other things first –- raising a family, working at another career, being a super-volunteer in your children’s schools.

I didn’t feel I was ready for college just out of high school but didn't like to sit still either. I worked at a local cell phone company for many years and loved it. Then after I started a family, I volunteered with the International MOMs Club, the YMCA and as president of the PTO at my son's school.  I began to realize I wanted to go to back to school once my own kids were in school full time.  So, in 2009, as my husband and I sat by the fire talking on New Year's Eve, I made it my resolution to go back to school –- that was my big dream and I'm proud I accomplished that dream.  It's a great feeling!

Teenagers don’t spend much time thinking about their own health. If you could give advice to their parents, what would you tell them?

First, make sure your child eats breakfast -- especially protein -- in the morning. It shouldn’t be a sweet breakfast like doughnuts or sugary cereal. That would raise their blood sugar and then drop it, leaving them feeling really tired later in the morning and making it harder to work and pay attention in class. Then I’d tell all parents to make your child do some kind of exercise every day, for at least 20 minutes. Just go out and run or walk around the block or do something fun to get moving. It can really help with concentration and it's a good idea to do this right before starting homework. It will also help their mood --(smiles) -- which will benefit the whole family.

How about sleep? Are adolescents still not sleeping?

Sleep is especially an issue in high school. Adding the exercise and food part will help with the sleep part. It helps not to have anything too sugary or with caffeine after about 6 p.m. Also, before they go to bed, it’s better for them to do something like read a book, even for just 10 minutes because it helps relax the mind. Television or playing a video game is terrible before bed because it keeps the mind too active, making it harder to fall asleep.

Talk about some new things you’d like to try.

I’d love to see a break during the school day -- less than five minutes -- where everybody takes time to stretch, do jumping jacks, just to get moving. It really helps the brain to function, which helps the kids to learn.

I’d also be interested in working with the students and staff on mental health issues. ADHD/ADD for example -- a lot of people have a stigma -- that it’s not really a thing, you just have to deal with it and pay attention. I’d like to end that stigma. There are a lot of different ways that ADHD and ADD present in a student, and it's not cut and dried. Continuing to education others on this issue is really important to me.

Another thing I’d like to do is encourage students to interact with students who have disabilities. A large number of people seem to be afraid to interact with those who have mental or physical challenges. When I was in college at Miami University, I took part every year in two events, the Spring Fling and Party With A Purpose. My psychology professor started these service-learning projects to help her students overcome fears of interacting with folks who might be different than themselves. She’d invite students with disabilities, and the students in her psychology classes at Miami would host a party for them. They’d have a craft area, games, and serve food. This allowed the Miami students to just interact with them and get to know them in a fun atmosphere. It was very effective and helped me to overcome my own fears. I would love to pass what I learned from this  to others.

You’re the district’s point person for advice on infectious diseases, growing childhood health problems, etc. Where do you go for the most up-to-date medical information?

The Centers for Disease Control, resources from the Hamilton County Educational Services Center (which employs me), the Ohio Department of Health, the National Association of School Nurses website, and Public School Works website. I also have a crisis manual, an emergency guidelines reference book and plan to take part in a crisis intervention training in June. Part of being a nurse is staying up-to-date on the latest information available.

What are some of your own secrets to staying well?

I eat three meals a day to keep my metabolism running strong and try to avoid sweets and french fries, which I love.  I stay pretty active around my house and honestly do not sit much. I really enjoy nature and try to take walks whenever I can. This helps my mental state as much as my physical. Oh, and I love to dance!  So, much to the embarrassment of my teens at home, you will find me dancing around the house to some good music or if someone happens to pop in "Michael Jackson's The Experience" dance game on our Wii, I am all in!