story and photo by Traci Chapman

For Tammy Kain, nursing has always been about children – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love everything about nursing – whether it’s helping with women’s health and family planning, the kids at the (Bethany) Children’s Center and, of course, I love school nursing,” Kain said. “I love the kids, the staff, the teachers.”
Kain’s love of children led her to an understandable destination – as Mustang Public Schools’ new resource nurse. In that position, Kain works regularly at five of Mustang’s seven elementary schools and occasionally for a sixth.
“It’s a great, great job because I get to go from school to school and have the chance to treat and interact with so many of the kids,” Kain said. “Of course, it has its challenges too – you must be very flexible, be able to juggle, because you never know what you’re walking into from day to day.”
School nursing is much different than the perception of many of the people Kain meets – parents, staff and even fellow nurses alike, she said. Far from just taking temperatures and sending children home or applying a band-aid and sending a student back to class, Kain and her fellow Mustang nurses deal with a wide range of issues.
“It’s everything from things like diabetics who need injections and for us to monitor their blood sugar, children who have chronic conditions – serious issues like heart problems, congenital conditions and more,” Kain said. “It’s not just routine bumps and scrapes, trying to get a kid with flu home.
“School nursing is a little like an ER nurse,” she said. “We don’t just wait for the kids to walk in the door.” Conditions like that make constant contact with families imperative, Kain said. That, in turn, many times leads to a closeness nurses in more transitional environments might not enjoy, she said.
“We become their second families,” Kain said. “These kids might be in our school for five years and we see them every day, know them, know their families, their siblings – it’s difficult not to become emotionally invested in them.”
That investment begins hours before school even begins. Kain follows her chronic patients’ conditions online from home, often starting at 5 a.m. She oversees onsite nursing assistants and creates individual action plans for students dealing with issues ranging from food allergies to vision and hearing issues and more.
That level of care, not to mention the volume of patients seen daily by school nurses – 40 to 50 per day can come through any one school’s nursing office, Kain said – can be difficult for districts struggling with a too-small staff. That’s a reason why Mustang is so unique, she said.
“The district has made nursing a priority, and we’re very unique,” Kain said. “We have the premier program in the state of Oklahoma.”
Nurses make more of a difference than in an individual patient’s – or even family’s – lives, however, Kain said. District professionals help decrease absence and can determine if there is an underlying physical issue causing a particular student’s behavioral issues.
“It could be that a student is struggling and it’s their hearing or vision or perhaps an undiagnosed condition,” she said. “That can be a simple fix because they have academic stresses or psychological assessments and the like.
“We also work to help kids make healthy decisions that can improve not only their health, but the health of their families – because they take these lessons home,” Kain said. “Whether it’s good eating habits, trying to exercise more, the dangers of smoking or drugs or even just ways to communicate openly about health issues or stress.”
Kain clearly loves her job at Mustang Schools – after becoming an RN in 2000, she worked first for a Mercy health clinic, dealing with family planning, women’s health and “just a little bit of everything.”
She started in Mustang in 2002, working there for a year, then moved to Bethany’s Children’s Center, where she worked until 2010.
“I quickly advanced there and worked in nursing administration,” Kain said. “I loved it there – the children were so inspirational and their families were amazing, but in the end, I knew I wanted to come home.”
That meant a move back to Mustang, the district she herself graduated from in 1986. It was a move she said she never regretted.
“In this position, I never know what I’ll be doing or even where I’ll be for certain,” Kain said. “I just say, ‘God, put me where you want me today,’ and it always works out.”
That was certainly the case not long ago, when Kain happened to walk into a school site as a student’s severe medical crisis was unfolding.
“I was able to take care of the student in a life-threatening situation until EMS arrived,” she said. “I wasn’t even supposed to be there that day, but I was – and that’s one of the things that reminds me how important this work truly is.”
Kain lives in Mustang with her husband of 30 years. She has two grown daughters and a three-year-old grandson.
“My life is very, very full and blessed – and much of that blessing comes from being able to be a nurse,” she said. “It’s an amazing journey.”