A School Nurse who Advocates for Unity and Progress

August 08, 2014

Cheri Dotson in New Mexico

Cheri Dotson, right, has served as a school nurse for 31 years.

This spring, HSC was proud to announce the winners of our first-ever School Nurse Leadership Award. It’s an award that acknowledges the tireless commitments that school nurses make, created in partnership with School Health magazine and Maico Diagnostics. The five winners and four honorable mentions selected from across the country represent school nurses who are blazing new trails in their field, reimagining the role that school nurses play in school health and wellness, students’ academic success and the health of the larger community. In this blog, we speak with Outstanding State Leader winner Cheri Dotson about her accomplishments as a school nurse.

School nursing means many things to many people. To some, it’s about scrapes and stomach aches. But to our school nurse leadership winners, it’s so much more. Cheri Dotson, winner of our state-level award, shows just what school nursing can mean when nurses take a broad view of their roles and their communities.

For more than three decades, Cheri has been serving as a school nurse, bringing people together in support of students’ health. Although she began her career as a school nurse in El Paso, Texas, her time in New Mexico marked the beginning of her time as a lead nurse for Santa Fe Public Schools. One of her main accomplishments? It wasn’t about Band-Aids, it was about bringing people together around students’ health.

As her award nominator wrote on her application: “Cheri tore down the walls.” For example, she collaborated with the University of New Mexico Hospital emergency medical staff to create a virtual school nurse behavioral health emergencies training module. School nurse training has gone online, and is available on YouTube.

About bringing Santa Fe up to date on best practices, Cheri says: “We’ve made huge leaps and bounds.”

Uniting people on a broader level, Cheri spent two terms as president of the New Mexico School Nurse Association, and she is currently the wellness champion in her district.

But the impact of her 31-year career can be measured not just in people connected or minds changed. It can also be measured in real, concrete numbers. For example, when she first started in Santa Fe, she was frustrated by the low number of children who had their immunization records in order, a big obstacle to getting kids enrolled properly. So she started the Santa Fe Public Schools Vaccine-For-Children program in 2004, getting funding and proper licensing along the way. More than a hundred children received vaccines that first year, and now, a decade later, more than 6,500 children received the vaccines that they needed. Compliance rose from 66 percent to 95 percent.

For the children in Cheri’s district, these are huge gains. Part of her job is also spreading this passion for nursing to others, hiring and training them for her district. “My pride and joy is turning some of the other nurses on to school nursing,” she says. It certainly isn’t the easiest field to enter. “There’s a lack of money to hire nurses, so many of the kids have chronic conditions, and asthma and diabetes have definitely been on the rise,” Cheri says. “School nursing is challenging, it’s rewarding, it can be frustrating, but it can be so exciting. I love giving other nurses the opportunity to try it out and hopefully love it too.”

She describes a fellow school nurse who spotted early signs of appendicitis, urging parents to take the child to the hospital and then finally calling an ambulance herself.

“School nurses are the original affordable care,” Cheri says. “We save lives.”

Congrats to Cheri on her wonderful work, and on her retirement after 31 years!