KSD district nurse earns national certification

Karen Hughes

KEARNEY — The health and wellness of Kearney School District’s students continue to be in good hands.

Karen Hughes became district nurse in July of 2021 after the retirement of Karen Hatfield, who had earned a reputation as a beloved and skilled practitioner and leader, according to a district press release.

Hughes knew the bar was set high when she took the job, which is one of the reasons why earning national certification was one of her top priorities.

Hughes recently achieved that goal by completing the process of becoming a Nationally Certified School Nurse. This places her among an elite of about 4,200 professionals with that certification compared to approximately 132,000 school nurses working in the U.S., according to data from the National Board for Certification of School Nurses and the National Institutes of Health.

“It feels amazing to earn this certification, and it’s definitely a relief,” Hughes said. “It’s almost like preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination- Registered Nurse) all over again. You study hard and then sit for a four-hour test with 200 questions.”

As district nurse, Hughes is responsible for supervising and guiding seven school nurses and a float nurse, ensuring that KSD is complying with a multitude of federal, state and local healthcare laws and regulations, and – most importantly – leading the daily work of meeting the health and wellness needs of students.

Since joining the team at KSD, most of Hughes’ service at the district has been dominated by one big challenge: COVID-19.

“This pandemic had everyone a lot more aware of the value and skills of school nurses,” Hughes said. “The fact is, I still don’t know what this job is without COVID-19.”

The reality is that school nurses have continued to both lead the response to the pandemic in schools and continued to address the many other needs that students bring with them, Hughes added.

The nurse’s office often becomes a sanctuary for students who need nurturing, she said.

“In many cases, we are the frontline care for kids with a whole range of chronic health conditions,” Hughes said. “We’ve seen a real jump in the mental and emotional needs of students in the last few years, and those needs have only become more acute with the pandemic. One of the reasons I love working for KSD is that we’re willing to invest the resources to help meet those needs.”

Hughes was raised in Nebraska and earned her BSN at the College of St. Mary in Omaha. She spent the next 11 years honing her skills and professional credentials in a wide variety of nursing positions, including a turn as a traveling nurse on the west coast.

She met her future husband in San Diego, where he was stationed with the Marine Corps. They moved to Kansas City to raise a family after he left the service. Hughes had worked as a substitute school nurse, and decided to pursue that full-time for the last four years.

“For me, I really love having the opportunity to serve a larger population in the community but still individualize that care,” Hughes said. “This is my community now, and I want to give back.”

After an extensive and thorough search, Hughes was chosen to take the district nurse position, according to Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jeff Morrison.

“I’m proud of Karen for earning her national certification. She’s a great example of the level of expertise and degree of commitment that we have at every level of our organization,” Morrison said. “We are grateful to have her as part of our team and looking forward to benefiting from her service for many, many years to come.”

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