Two WesternU nurses join the Pomona Unified School District

Western University of Health Sciences College of Graduate Nursing (CGN) alumna Emma Birur, MSN-E ’17, once thought school nurses took care of minor injuries and the occasional medical emergency.

Now that she is a school nurse for the Pomona Unified School District (PUSD), she is finding she does a lot more – ensuring children receive proper medication, serving as an important member of special education students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, and performing state-mandated vision, hearing and scoliosis screenings.

Birur, who holds a BA in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz, started working for PUSD in October 2017, just a few months after finishing the Master of Science in Nursing–Entry (MSN-E) program at WesternU. She already feels like she’s made an impact on her students’ lives. She is the school nurse for 2,130 students at three PUSD elementary schools: Arroyo, Lexington and Lopez.

Emma Birur, MSN-E 17

“To me this isn’t a job. I’m so happy to be here. I love interacting with the kids,” she said. “You really feel like you’re making a significant difference in their education, whether it’s identifying students who need hearing aids and glasses, to writing referrals and recognizing mental health crises.”

CGN graduate Angelica Alvarez, MSN-E ’18, is also a PUSD school nurse. Alvarez grew up in Pomona, and is the school nurse for four schools, including Lincoln Elementary, which she attended as a child.

“There is nothing more impactful and real than having an alum come back and show our kids our school works. She’s homegrown Pomona, from elementary school to college. That speaks volumes to the kids,” said Lincoln Elementary Principal Alicia Ochoa McMullin. “The opportunities are there, and they’re in Pomona.”

Alvarez graduated from Pomona High School and earned a degree in anthropology from the University of La Verne. She said CGN prepared her with the skills to take on any nursing role.

Angelica Alvarez, MNS-E 18

“My instructors expressed the importance of being ethical, competent, and a patient advocate,” Alvarez said. “Although I have only been a registered nurse for just over a year, and employed as one for just several months, CGN has taught me, and is still teaching me, how to be a leader.”

CGN recruits students from local communities and equips them to return to those communities after graduation, said CGN Assistant Professor Ruth Trudgeon, DNP, RN, lead professor of community health nursing.

“While in the program I try to engage them in the community so they get that love of the community, and ultimately help them go back and serve that community and act as brilliant role models,” Trudgeon said.

With seven schools between them, Alvarez and Birur are happy to help each other and other school nurses.

“As new nurses, we are so fortunate to have the support of each other as well as nurses who have been working in the district for many years,” Birur said. “They continue to share their expertise and are very enthusiastic to lend a hand.”

Alvarez and other school nurses recently helped Birur conduct vision and hearing screenings at Lexington Elementary. If she finds that students need glasses, she submits a referral. If the family cannot afford glasses, she processes their information and refers them to the Pomona Lions Club Vision Center at Marshall Middle School, which provides free glasses through a partnership with WesternU’s College of Optometry, PUSD and Pomona Host Lions Club.

WesternU and PUSD have a strong connection. The WesternU College of Dental Medicine operates multiple school-based oral health centers in PUSD. The Pomona Health Career Ladder brings PUSD students to the WesternU campus monthly to learn about health professions. College of Optometry students came to Birur’s school in the fall to perform vision screenings. They were happy to see a WesternU graduate, and she made sure they examined a broad spectrum of patients.

“WesternU’s commitment to developing community partnerships is felt throughout our district,” Birur said. “As an alumna, I am in a fortunate position that allows me to have a pulse on the needs of our students while being able to reach out to the WesternU network for assistance with resources and referrals.”

Birur and Health Services Assistant Daisy Padilla spent a recent morning calling Lopez Elementary students in to the nurse’s office to try on new shoes donated by Shoes That Fit, a Claremont-based nonprofit that provides new shoes to low-income children.

“When students come into the nurse’s office to receive treatment, that is our golden opportunity to check in with them and assess for other needs they may have,” Birur said. “Ill-fitting or worn-out shoes are often a sign of poverty.”

They measure the child’s feet and send a request to Shoes That Fit for a new pair. “It’s hard to fathom that something as simple as a pair of new shoes can make a difference for a child, but it does,” Birur said. “Not only can it improve their self-esteem, but ultimately improve their overall health.”

CGN students are taught a holistic approach to the care of individuals, families and communities, said CGN Assistant Dean for Global Health and Innovations Ivy Tuason, PhD, RN, FNP-BC. “If someone comes in with a cold, we treat the cold, but also consider if they can afford the proper medicine, if they have enough food and if they have a warm place to live.

“We can’t just take care of the diagnosis,” Tuason said. “We take care of all aspects that can affect patients’ responses to illness and treatment, including environmental and interpersonal aspects. That is how we train our students, to look beyond disease.”

All WesternU students receive interprofessional education, where they work with other health professions to learn with, from and about each other as a means of fostering collaborative health care practices.

Alvarez and Birur utilize their interprofessional skills every day, whether it’s working with speech therapists, school psychologists, occupational therapists, or other experts on Individualized Education Programs, or by communicating with students’ outside health care providers.

“Interprofessional collaboration is an important concept because we all ‘share a piece of the pie’ that perhaps the other party is unaware of or does not have complete information on. Care coordination is a major component of school nursing,” Alvarez said. “The special education team is a different type of interdisciplinary team than you might find in the hospital, but ultimately, the goal is the same. We all want the best outcome for the patient, or in this case, the student.”