Emily Rodger, the school nurse at St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen, has seen many changes in her career since she started nursing in 2013. One of the most significant changes has been the need for comprehensive and accessible mental health services for young people, which is an important part of her role as the school nurse in Scotland’s oldest all-through girls’ school.

At St Margaret’s School for Girls, the wellbeing of every girl is paramount. In her role as school nurse, Emily works alongside the school’s pastoral team to be there for all of the girls to ensure that their wellbeing and mental health needs are being met.

Here, we find out about Emily’s day to day role and how she has adapted to meet the needs of pupils, staff, and parents during the CV19 pandemic.

How did you get into nursing?

I always knew I wanted a job in a caring profession but didn’t know what. I spent a year doing voluntary social care work in Peru after leaving school and, after some experience in hospitals and seeing the gaps in the health and social care system there, I knew nursing was for me. Nursing is a career with many opportunities, and the skills are transferable, which appealed to me. I love doing such a fulfilling job every day. Before starting as the school nurse at St Margaret’s School for Girls in June 2020, I worked in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital and the Haematology and General Medical ward at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

My primary responsibilities at St Margaret’s are around first aid, health, and wellbeing for our pupils. Since I started, my job has been dominated by the CV19 pandemic, so I am looking forward to seeing how my role will change when all the restrictions are lifted.

What’s the best part about your job?

I enjoy getting to know the individual pupils and having the opportunity to help them - even if it's just an ice pack or paracetamol! It’s rewarding knowing that I’ve been able to help.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The biggest challenge is probably juggling the needs of the whole school and no two days are ever the same. However, it’s great to know that I have a wonderful team around me who always offer help and support when I am busy. I’m also fortunate enough to have the support of other school nurses in the region who I have started to connect with since joining the St Margaret’s team.

If you were to describe the school in three words what would they be?

Creative, dedicated, and adaptable.

What would you say have been the biggest changes since you began your career as a nurse?

In my own career I would say it has been the need for really comprehensive and accessible mental health services for young people. When I began my career these services were not as readily available or utilised as they are now.

It's so encouraging to see how St Margaret's is developing mental wellbeing as part of the curriculum which is under regular review. Mindfulness programmes, wellbeing days and engagement with charities such as Mental Health Aberdeen, are just some of the examples of initiatives which the school is undertaking to support young people in this area.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Each day is really different depending on the needs of the school that day.

I generally start with a visit to the junior school and sometimes the senior form classes to talk to the pupils about relevant issues affecting the school. When I get back I have a bit of time to respond to emails and organise myself for the day. I usually have a range of people coming to my office throughout the day for different reasons. Lunch and morning break are usually my busiest times as pupils and staff will often come to see me in their free time. I’m always on call for any emergencies or to visit pupils that cannot come to my office for medical attention. Often my afternoons are taken up with staff meetings or calls with external health teams and tasks such as sorting out first aid kits and arranging immunisations.

Tell me about the measures in place to support the girls’ mental health.

Working alongside the dedicated pastoral care team at St Margaret’s, it’s our job to look after the girls’ mental health and wellbeing. Over lockdown, St. Margaret’s proactively offered a range of wellbeing activities and support for girls at school and at home. In November, the girls took part in a successful MOVEember Millions campaign which saw pupils, parents, staff, and former pupils from St. Margaret’s working together to complete one million steps a day in November. There was also dedicated support and wellbeing assemblies through the school’s online wellbeing hub. Each week young people were set two challenges to complete, with teachers hoping these would give the girls a much needed daily boost. Pupils were also given a set of ten mental wellbeing cards to use in their own time.

As part of my role, I ensure the girls know that they can come to me with any questions, problems or concerns that they may have.

How have you adapted your role to meet the needs of children during the CV19 pandemic?

I started as the school nurse during the pandemic in June 2020 so dealing with CV19 has always been a part of my role at St Margaret’s. The team at St Margaret’s has been so adaptable over the course of the year, with lots of online opportunities for children when they were unable to be in the school building. Now that pupils and staff are back in school, part of my role is to ensure that the girls are informed and reassured about the pandemic. I’m always here to listen to pupils who are concerned about how it may affect them. The girls in the senior school have been particularly worried about what this could mean for their exams this year, so it’s important that I’m there to listen, reassure them and point them in the right direction for additional support if need be.

I also try to answer any questions which parents may have about the pandemic and more recently with regard to lateral flow testing for their daughter.

What advice would you give to young people wanting to pursue a career in nursing?

Be prepared to work hard - mentally, physically, and emotionally - but know that the personal rewards are worth the blood, sweat and tears (sometimes quite literally). I would also say that nursing can offer a lot more than what might initially appear on the surface. Take a close look at all the different options available within nursing and think about your long term goals and aspirations when you apply.

Tell me a bit about what you do outside of work.

I love cooking and spend a huge amount of time in my kitchen creating things and trying out new recipes. I’m also a big fan of all types of board games and I’m building up quite a collection now. In non-covid times, I love to travel and explore and I am really looking forward to being able to discover new places again.