Lake Forest school nurses focus on students
Deer Path Middle School nurses Irene Dorfman (left) and Rita Clark treat the ailments of more than 1,000 students. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2012 3:06PM
LAKE FOREST — It was only 2 p.m. at Deer Path Middle School last week Wednesday, yet more than 20 students had already visited the two busy school health offices to seek the care of long-time school nurses Rita Clark and Irene Dorfman.
With complaints ranging from stomach aches and headaches to bloody noses and bruises, the surging hormones and growth spurt-induced clumsiness associated with the awkward adolescent years sends a nearly continuous stream of pre-teens through the school health office doors each day at both Deer Path Middle School’s East and West campuses in Lake Forest.
For Clark, the 5th and 6th grade nurse, and Dorfman, who cares for 7th and 8th grade students, the two women have their hands full every day, mending bumps and bruises, administering medications and calming anxiety—among other non-urgent health needs—for more than 1,000 pre-teen students at DPMS.
With their warm and comforting demeanor and compassionate personalities, Clark and Dorfman are natural nurses, but both share a special appreciation for pre-teens that makes them even better at what they do.
“It’s inspiring to work with them because they’re just starting to develop their own sense of self and they’re not afraid to speak their minds,” Dorfman said. “It’s energizing to spend time with them—they’re a very humorous group.”
Well-versed on the unique physical and emotional needs of the North Shore pre-teen population, Clark and Dorfman have spent the last 13 and 21 years, respectively, caring for students transitioning into young adulthood.
“The junior high age group is so unique because they’re in that transitional stage where both their bodies and emotions are changing at the same time, and that can cause a lot of discomfort in different ways,” Dorfman said. “On the emotional side, they’re faced with newfound social pressures while also taking on more responsibility for the first time.”
When a student shows up the nurse’s office with an ailment, Clark and Dorfman follow the usual procedure of taking the patient’s temperature and offering them a bed—if there’s one available—to lie down on.
Although most students leave the health center feeling better after a little rest and advice, many times the nurses have to dig a little deeper to get to the root of what’s causing a patient’s physical discomfort.
Because a host of factors such as nutrition, hydration, sleep patterns, and exercise levels all play a role in how a child feels on any particular day, Clark and Dorfman ask a lot of questions before allowing a student to return to class.
“Many times physical problems are tied to emotional issues, so we try to get to the bottom of what’s going on by working with the social workers and using other school resources to do our best to increase the well-being of each student,” Clark said.
During the rare times Clark and Dorfman can be spotted outside their tiny offices, Clark periodically teaches the 5th grade growth and development course and visits classrooms to give certain health-related presentations. Dorfman lends her nursing expertise to the 7th and 8th grade health classes, where she lectures on communicable diseases and disease prevention.