A Q+A with Jodi Biskup and AmyJo Goldfarb
School nurses are comfortable with the unexpected, caring for kid ailments like broken arms and bee stings. Calm under pressure, these nurses have handled the ultimate crisis this year, taking on vital, new roles on our COVID-19 response and reopening team. Since last March, they’ve become experts on testing, contract tracing, and vaccinations. Our community is indebted to their hard work, knowledge, and care. We sat down (virtually, of course) with our two nurses, Jodi and AmyJo, to get to know them and express our gratitude.
Though Claudia Garcia Chan wasn't available for this interview, she works a part-time nurse at Head-Royce, calling on her experience in neurosurgical intensive and critical care settings. Claudia has been instrumental in our COVID-19 testing process and deserves our heartfelt thanks.
For our new community members, please take a moment to introduce yourself:
This is my sixth year working at Head-Royce School. I began in 2015 as the first school nurse HRS had ever hired. Prior to that, I worked for three years for Alameda Unified School District––as one of two nurses for 11,000 students!
This is my 5th year at Head-Royce. I have worked as a weekly sub for Jodi for four years and, this year, was fortunate to be asked to increase my hours due to our COVID-19 mitigation and response strategies. I have also worked as the Summer Program RN for three years. Before Head-Royce, my work as an RN had always been in the hospital. I have worked in the Emergency Department, Recovery Room, and also in Nursing Administration.
What has your collaborative work looked like this year?
Since the shelter-in-place order took effect in March 2020, we have been meeting regularly with the Reopening Committee and collaborating with our Medical Advisory Board to make sure we are up to date on the latest research and data. It has been all hands on deck––from the reopening plans, creating and implementing health and safety protocols, to the current weekly testing on campus. It has been wonderful to work with committed professionals across all different disciplines and specialties with the common goal of reopening schools safely.
As we’ve reopened, what is the biggest challenge of having students on campus? What’s the biggest benefit?
The biggest challenge is ensuring we are following the most up to date guidelines. The Alameda County Public Health Department recommendations change so frequently and we spend a lot of time making sure we are up to date with the most current protocols and best practices. The biggest benefit is that students are happy to be on campus and are thriving!
The biggest challenge of having students on campus is ensuring the health and safety of all. We were strategic in planning for in-person learning in the summer, which allowed for the implementation of mitigation strategies and changes to the physical spaces on campus. Keeping up to date with the ACPHD, state, and CDC guidance is of significant focus and, as a team, we’re committed to staying current on the ever-shifting landscape in public health. The biggest benefit to having students on campus is the relative return to normalcy for kids. We know COVID-19 has brought great challenges to many families and having the chance to be with kids and support them here in person is very rewarding and kids appear happy and engaged at school.
Can you describe a past experience––professional or personal––that prepared you for the uncertainty of this year?
I was a trauma nurse so I think that pretty much sums up my ability to deal with the uncertainty of this year. One never knew what patient was going to be dropped off at the front door of the Emergency Department by helicopter, ambulance or private car and sometimes multiple patients at a time. That was a highly intense time where I sought calm amidst the storm and took time to assess and triage what is most essential in the moment. Sometimes this year it has felt like too much and I am so very grateful for my RN team (and beyond!) and that I can turn to them in the spirit of support and solution oriented planning at any hour of any day.
When did you know you wanted to work in healthcare?
I have always been interested in healthcare, but got a late start and finished nursing school at age 40 after a few different careers (international affairs, Spanish teacher, finance, anthropologist). My father also became a nurse later in life (after owning a motorcycle shop). However, my sister, a pediatrician, inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare. She advocates for just and equitable access to healthcare, using her medical knowledge and skills, to serve those with less access and resources in developing countries and underserved populations in the US.
Although it would not be OSHA approved now, as early as seven years old, I would join my grandfather (MD) for his morning rounds at the hospital, sit with my grandmother (RN) at the nurses’ station, and “worked” at my grandfather’s practice stuffing aspirin into little paper envelopes. I saw the kindness, care, and support that both of my grandparents provided to those in our community and I was drawn to science and healthcare as a result. My father is an orthodontist and I spent time working at his office too, so helping others through science has always been a focus and discussion at the dinner table. I became a wilderness EMT and spent many summers at camp as a counselor, guide, or part of the health clinic team. I guess we could say I was destined to do something in healthcare and studying nursing has given me the opportunity to do so many different things.
For our students interested in health care, what personal traits come in handy for nursing?
Compassion and empathy are critical, but it’s equally as important to have excellent assessment, analytical and observational skills, and the ability to be a good listener and communicator. Being able to quickly develop rapport with patients (and people in general) is invaluable as a nurse, as is having a curious nature and desire to continually learn.
Kindness, the courage to speak up, and a tenacity to advocate for patients are all must-have skills. Working collaboratively with others under stressful times is required and so being a good listener is important. There are many people in healthcare that are absolutely brilliant and also unrelatable. Patients don’t feel reassured and comforted by one’s knowledge if they can’t feel the caring behind it. It’s so important that patients feel heard and supported even in the most challenging of times. The ability to multitask, be empathic, and thoughtful are key traits for nursing while a love for science and seeking new knowledge are all very important.
How have you dealt with the unpredictability of the pandemic and constant shifting plans of this past year?
Life is unpredictable––so it’s good to let go of most things, manage the things that are within our control, and practice self-compassion during these challenging times.
Our nurse team has been instrumental in keeping up with the changes and unpredictability. The support and can-do approach keeps us feeling optimistic even when the challenges have felt insurmountable. The HRS leadership and including the RN’s as a key part of shaping the design and implementation to re-envisioning our school year has been such a positive experience.
What is a quote or saying that motivates and inspires you?
“Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.” I keep this quote on a post-it note in the nurse’s office. Everyone starts off life on different playing fields and people who overcome obstacles and adversity inspire me to advocate for those who are underserved.
What is your most surprising hobby or interest?
Not surprising to those who know me well, but I love to dance. Prior to the pandemic, I would go dancing once or twice a month. Dancing and music bring me a lot of joy.
I love to ski (both water and downhill). We spent summers on a small lake in Michigan and we skied each morning before my Dad went to work and each evening before the mosquitoes began eating us. In the winter we downhill skied as a family. I was a ski instructor and joined the downhill ski team in college and always thought I would be a search and rescue RN and a volunteer ski patroller but given that we live what seems to be an eternity (with traffic) from the mountains on a Friday after work, we don’t actually get up to Tahoe as much as I would like to.
How do you spend your downtime during the pandemic?
I’ve been busy! I've probably spent too much time watching Netflix, and also I’ve hiked with my kids and dog, taken road trips, listened to music, refurbished a dresser with my son, read, planted a garden (lots of work that yielded little results!), enjoyed socially distanced gatherings, volunteered with my daughter to make tiny houses for homeless youth, and made meals for the homeless.
I feel like I have had no downtime during the pandemic since it seems as though work is constantly tugging at my heels. New research, discoveries, guidance, protocol development, etc. push me to seek new knowledge at all times. Our family peeled away for an RV trip during the summer since our trip to Italy and Israel was foiled by COVID-19. We've been biking together more than ever, which has been incredibly fun! When it’s raining outdoors, we take turns riding our Peloton (which thankfully we had pre-COVID-19!) and are watching documentaries as a family whenever we can.