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Dublin School District Nurse Alex Meadows on Why Healthy Kids Learn Better

September 8, 2014
Alex Meadows

Alex Meadows recently had the opportunity to meet with Dublin Unified School District nurse Alex Meadows. Ms. Meadows is a product of Dublin schools, attending Dublin Elementary School, Wells Middle School and graduating with the Dublin High School Class of 2009 before earning a nursing degree in 2013 through the 2+2 program at St. Mary’s College of California and Samuel Merritt University.

Ms. Meadows not only brings her expertise as a nurse to help keep over 9,000 students healthy in Dublin’s rapidly growing school district, but is also an active fitness instructor with a passion for health and nutrition. As Meadows notes below, “healthy kids learn better”. What role do school nurses play in keeping our kids healthy? Read on… What inspired you to pursue nursing?

Alex Meadows: “I started at San Diego State University undeclared. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted my major to be and at the end of the first semester I declared for a kinesiology, with an emphasis in fitness, health and nutrition, but I wasn’t 100% sure what I could do with that degree. My roommate was in the pre-nursing program at San Diego State and when she spoke about her classes it got me really interested in nursing. I’ve always been interested in healthcare, fitness and nutrition, and was already a group fitness instructor. I saw that through nursing I could both help people prevent becoming sick and help those that are sick.

“I decided to switch schools, transferring to St. Mary’s College of California, and it was the best choice that I’ve made. I love nursing and was exposed to many different forms of nursing during school. I did my clinical rotation for community health at the De Colores Head Start program in Oakland, which is a daycare and healthcare center for kids at the poverty level and below. We organized health screenings and preventative care for the kids and that sparked my interest in becoming a school nurse.

“At St. Mary’s I enrolled in the 2+2 Pre-Nursing program which is generally two years at St. Mary’s and two years at Samuel Merritt University. Samuel Merritt has relationships with St. Mary’s College and several other schools, and also accepts direct applicants, for their nursing program. From the schools that feed Samuel Merritt you are automatically accepted into the nursing program if you maintain the required GPA.” For high school or college students who are thinking of nursing as a profession, what advice do you have for them to achieve that goal?

Meadows: “I took a lot of AP classes and my advice is if you know what you want to major in take AP classes that can help clear your general education requirements. For pre-nursing that means taking math and science AP classes, and you can look on college websites to understand what AP classes will help you the most. I knocked out a bunch of general ed classes for my first two years of college as a result which meant that when I transferred to St. Mary’s I didn’t need to add on the second year, all I did was take one night class at Diablo Valley College and one summer class before transferring into Samuel Merritt University. Being proactive can really speed up your path through college.” How does nursing school differ from undergraduate programs?

Samuel Merritt Graduation

Samuel Merritt Graduation

Meadows: “The 2+2 program at St. Mary’s includes the core foundational elements like microbiology, general biology, physiology, anatomy, and so on, and then the Samuel Merritt program specializes in nursing topics. At Samuel Merritt elements of the program included nursing research, pharmacology, pathophysiology, medical surgical nursing (including ICU, labor and delivery, etc.), pediatrics, community health: a broad range of nursing topics. I also did a full semester at John Muir Hospital in the adult unit where classes correspond with clinical rotations. During the third and fourth semesters you narrow your focus on a specific discipline of nursing. We had a month in the ICU, a month in pediatrics, a month in labor and delivery, each coupled with a month long class. The first semester in the second year is very intense because you have a lot to learn in a short period of time and you are switching clinical sites.

“The final semester is the student’s choice, it’s called our preceptorship, and you choose the path you’d like to take. I actually went into labor and delivery, and was required to accumulate a certain number of hours while school is still going on. You don’t get a say in your shift and I ended up working night shifts from 7pm to 7am while going to school!” What did you learn about nursing that you didn’t expect? What surprised you?

Meadows: “In the hospital time management is critical because you have a set of patients to look after and their status is always changing, doctors giving you orders, family members asking you questions, and unexpected things pop up during the day. Your day is jam packed – you have to be able to think on your feet.

“All the nurses I’ve ever known have been smart, compassionate and good with change, so I had to learn to embrace change, and take things as they come. Nursing school did a great job helping me develop how to think on my feet, that nothing is ever black and white, and that you have to look at problems from all different angles.

“Nurses are the eyes and ears of the doctor. We have to recognize and interpret changes in patient status, and be able to relay that information to the doctor in a way that is quick and effective. A lot of the time the doctor isn’t in, and you have to catch him or her over the phone. You have to be detailed, clear and concise, and roll with the punches.” How does nursing in a school district differ from your experiences working in a hospital?

Meadows: “In a school setting you aren’t dealing with acutely ill kids, it’s a lot of preventative care and trying to catch the kids that have slipped through the cracks. We do tons of outreach, state-mandated screenings for vision and hearing problems, following up with students where the families can’t afford glasses or additional tests by an audiologist and referring them to get the care that they need.

“I also deal with case management, including participating in 504 Plan meetings and IEPs. 504 Plans are for students with certain life-altering medical conditions like diabetes or Crohn’s disease, and make sure that students are allowed all the things that they need for their condition, like access to the bathroom or water, the ability to test their blood sugar whenever they want to without getting penalized, the ability to carry their glucagon for low blood sugar, and so on. Preventative care is very different from a hospital where people are already sick. Preventative care also includes a lot of education, educating teachers about health conditions that impact their students, being proactive if a teacher notices something wrong with a student in their class. We do whatever is needed of us to help prevent problems that interfere with learning.” Outside of school you work as a fitness trainer. What sparked your interest in physical fitness?

Meadows: “When I was at Dublin High School I was on the cross country team and the swim team. I started competitive swimming in the 4th grade with the Pleasanton Seahawks. I had always loved to run and joined cross country in my freshman year, and absolutely loved the sport. I was an endurance athlete, focused on distance running and swimming. From an early age fitness has been important to me.

“When I was St. Mary’s College I joined 24 Hour Fitness and started taking group exercise classes, specifically the Les Mills format, which is a fitness company based out of New Zealand. Fitness helped me maintain a good balance when I was in school, significantly reducing my stress while keeping me healthy. I felt better, slept better and fitness kept me sane! I loved taking the classes so much that after a year and a half, in the middle of nursing school, I decided to start teaching fitness. I wanted to do for people what certain instructors had done for me: teaching me how to develop a strong body, maintain calm in times of stress, and maintain a sense of balance.” For the student or adult that is super busy and doesn’t feel he or she has time for fitness, what advice do you have?

Meadows: “My biggest thing when I feel overwhelmed is to map out on my calendar all of the things I think I need to get done on a given day, and prioritize them. Even if you just do 30 minutes of something it’s better than nothing. If you don’t have a gym membership you can do something at home, in your garage.

“Think of it as finding time for yourself. If you feel more energized in the morning, maybe set your alarm clock a bit earlier two or three times a week to ease into a new routine, and go on a run. Or 30 minutes before you’d normally wake up do a yoga sequence, if that’s what you really need to help you relax. It’s all about finding times during the day when you can include bursts of activity: I’ll take my dog for a walk at this time, or I can block out a bigger chunk of time to go to the gym. I recommend taking your gym bag with you to work so you can go on your lunch break or go right after work so that it is convenient to stay fit.

“You don’t need a big space to be active, and you can involve your kids. Perhaps have them ride their bike while you go on a run, or play soccer together. Get everyone moving.

“I also recommend starting small, make little changes that you can sustain, and find something that you really, really love. There something active for everyone. And don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get to the gym one day. It’s all about overall balance.” You attended Dublin Elementary School, Wells Middle School and Dublin High School; now you are back working for the Dublin Unified School District. What’s it like to work for the District that educated you?

Meadows: “I ran into my 4th grade Ms. Stanchina teacher on Friday, who now works at Fallon, my boss Tess Johnson was my principal at Dublin Elementary School. It’s neat working with and running into people that have known me since I was a kid. I’ve received nothing but congratulations, positive encouragement and support because everyone I’ve encountered loves that I’ve come back into the District, and back to my roots.

“Coming full circle is just another example of how Dublin High School provides a great education and foundation for kids to move on and delve into the profession or career that inspires them. The high school, and the District, is so different from when I went I attended Dublin schools. The DHS campus is gorgeous and the quality of education is terrific. I like being back where I started and play a role in supporting kids by keeping them healthy, because health kids learn better!”


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