Taumarunui High School students are in great health thanks to two former pupils, school nurse Rebecca Downey and doctor Anna Teata.
The school clinic is one of the more established in Waikato, having been open for nearly five years. Rebecca has been there for two of these years and says her success is due to a combination of easy to access facilities, Anna’s support and their relationship with students and staff.
“We moved from being in to a broom cupboard near reception to a purpose-built consultation room with great facilities. This offers privacy by being away from the main building and makes it easier for the 417 students to access the care they need”, says Rebecca.
“Students are hugely influenced by their peers more than anything else. They often bring their friends with them when they come to see me. Although I have only one patient, there may be five sets of ears listening to my message. It is important to make every interaction with students a positive one, so they are more likely to engage with health care providers when they leave school.”
Sexual health accounts for half of Rebecca’s consultations. The rest are a combination of accident or injury, skin infections, other general conditions, as well as the provision of a HEADSS (home, education, eating, exercise, activity, drugs, sexuality and suicide risk) assessment of every year nine student.
“Sexual health is an area that students don’t discuss with their parents and family doctor. So having a confidential, on-site clinic is really helping them and we are seeing positive results. The number of teenage pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases has dropped since the school-based clinic opened.”
Rebecca is an ex-student at the school, and so is Anna, who comes in once a week from Taumarunui Medical Centre to support her.
“It’s great for Anna and myself to come back as a GP and nurse to the school I went to 25 years ago. We wish we had services like these when we were students, things have changed so much for the better.
“Students consider us a success story, and many are surprised to learn we went to the school. I feel it’s important to have positive role models and we make sure the students know that they have just as many opportunities as students in other regions.”
Rebecca runs the school clinic from Monday to Thursday and spends time on Friday at the off-site alternative education class as needed.
“I’m at work for 28 hours a week, but would love to be here longer. Students have complex problems and issues and we need to ensure we set aside enough time to manage these in a youth-friendly way.”
“We have a supportive principal and staff, and we work closely with the guidance counsellor to cover all bases with the kids. Anna has been a huge influence in getting our standing orders up and running. She has a great rapport with the students and I’ve learnt so much from her.”
“Without her help, I could not do half the things I do, such as giving out antibiotics and contraception right then and there.”
“I often see students out socially in the community. One student introduced me to their family as ‘her nurse’. It was humbling to hear that they think of me as theirs.”
Midlands Health Network manages 29 GP-led clinics and 14 nurse-led clinics in high schools, teen parent units and alternative education across Waikato. These clinics have supported over 24,000 students in the last 10 years.
Gurdeep Singh Judge
Midlands Health Network