By Will Phillips
Melissa Jeffries has been working for the Henry County Public Schools system for the last decade. And recently, she was acknowledged by the state as the Kentucky School Nurse of the Year. To hear Jeffries tell it, though, her job has always been rewarding, even without the hardware to prove it.
Jeffries wanted to be a nurse ever since she was a child. “I never wanted to be anything but a nurse,” she chuckled. “I was always picking up stray pets and taking care of people and animals. I’ve always had that desire to help. It was never even a question of what I wanted to do.”
Although she’s from Oldham County originally, Jeffries married a man from Henry County, Loren, and moved here years ago. When they had children in the school system and the nurse’s position became available, it seemed to fit perfectly.
“I actually was working at a hospital, and we had children in Henry County school systems when the job came available. Obviously, the schedule appealed to me. It’s a very different schedule from a traditional nursing job.”
And what gave her the confidence to make that move? “A leap of faith,” she said smiling.
Before working for Henry County schools, Jeffries worked in a variety of healthcare environments, starting in a neonatal intensive care unit, which specializes in the care of newborn infants. She worked several different places before ending up at Baptist Hospital Northeast in La Grange, where she was working when hired by HCPS.
When Jeffries was awarded the Kentucky School Nurse of the Year award, she said that it was “very humbling.” She added, “The nurses that I know that are in our school systems are fantastic…I appreciated it very much. But in the same respect, I sometimes feel that there are so many great nurses out there, how do you narrow it down to one who’s the best in Kentucky?”
However, Jeffries also sees the award as confirmation of the work that she’s put into her job.
“I have worked very hard at this job, and I have tried to bring programs to the school that were not in place before that focus on prevention and education specifically,” Jeffries said. “So, it was nice to get the recognition that said, ‘yeah, you’re doing some good things for Henry County.’”
Jeffries also applauded the leadership in the school system. “I think Henry County schools are great, too. We’ve got a lot of good things going on. It was good to help that along…From administration on down, I think it’s excellent. I come from Oldham County, and they’ve got great schools, too, but I know some people don’t realize when they come a little further out into the county, how good things are out here. Our schools are wonderful.”
However, Jeffries said that there are problems with the importance placed on healthcare at the governmental level.
“The state doesn’t fund healthcare in schools very well, and that’s sad. What I can say is that in Henry County, administration supports health services to the extreme. Anything I’ve ever wanted to do, they support me, they back me and they find a way to make it happen,” Jeffries said. “It’s a team effort, by far. I don’t think that things could be accomplished without that support. And that’s all the way down from [superintendent Tim Abrams] to the teachers who let me come in and do things with the kids.”
And at the end of the day, that’s where the focus comes back to for Jeffries: the kids.
“One of the things that I have enjoyed the most about this job is that you have the opportunity to impact and empower at a very young age. I am a firm believer in education, and education in health means that you teach people how to live healthier lifestyles and you’re preventing problems in the future. And that’s probably been the biggest excitement for me in this job,” she said. “That you can make changes in the way that we think and the way that we act, just through education and prevention. And I hope that that makes a difference for our kiddos down the road in their lives, that they have healthier lives. You don’t always get that in a hospital setting, where you’re…treating the problem and sending them out the door.”
Jeffries said that she’s planning to stay in her job “as long as they’ll have me.” She also said that she has some programs coming down the pike that will work specifically with cancer prevention.
“I truly count my job as a privilege,” Jeffries said with a smile. “I’m very blessed, and I’m very thankful for the job that I have. And as long as they’ll let me hang around, I’ll probably be here.”