I must begin with special recognition of a former member, Margaret Winters. She collected the history of the Illinois Association of School Nurses (IASN) from its inception until 2007, and wrote a book for us! She was, and is still remembered as an icon in Illinois school nursing. Known for her fierce advocacy as DSN director(1975-77), IASN president (1977-78), IASN executive secretary (1989-2002), and NASN fellow, Margaret’s memory lives on in the legacy of Illinois school nursing. Because of her passion and dedication to school nursing in Illinois, we can appreciate IASN’s role in preserving and advancing school health and nursing in Illinois. What a gift to IASN and NASN!
It all began with a group of 25 Illinois school nurses in 1955 who recognized the need to organize. School nursing and school health services in Illinois began in 1912. There were varying opinions from different associations (to name a few - Illinois Education Association, Illinois Nurses Association, and the American School Health Association) concerning the appropriate affiliation of school nurses. Until the early 1950s, school nurses held a Public Health certification, which was recognized by the State Department of Public Instruction. This resulted in being recognized on par with teachers (salary schedule, pension system). However, a law was passed (bill introduced ironically by the Illinois Nurses Association) removing this certification. Although it was disappointing at the time, this disagreement between INA and school nurses provided a positive outcome for school nursing in Illinois.
This determined group of 25 school nurses pursued a stronger avenue of support and collegiality with the Illinois Education Association (IEA), and created the affiliate organization, IASN, approved by IEA in 1957. The intent was not to replace the nurses’ professional association, but “supplement them and to make their ties stronger with the educators.” The first formal meeting of board members and officers was June 18, 1958 and the first annual membership meeting was in October 1958. In reading the details of the story, it is clear that this was a group of tenacious, strong nursing leaders, driven by a passion for their profession. The theme of the first annual meeting of IASN was “Legislation for School Nurses.”
IASN joined the Department of School Nurses (DSN) in 1969. In December 1971 a certificate of school nursing, comparable to teacher certification, and with IASN input, was accepted by the State Teacher Certification Board. From there, IASN participated in the development of school nurse certification degree programs at local universities, and were pioneers in developing guidelines and policies affecting school health and nursing in the educational setting.
In 1987 and 2010, IASN was privileged to host the NASN annual conference in Chicago. IASN only grew stronger when it became unified with NASN in 1990. Since I became a school nurse in 1995, I have had a front row seat to the work IASN has done. IASN continued to grow its relationships with a variety of stakeholders in the state, identifying both educational and health organizations concerned with the development and implementation of school health practices. Highlights have been preserving certification in the early 2000’s, the recent revision of The Illinois Nurse Practice Act (delegation language), and developing a strong collegial relationship with ANA-IL since 2012.
As I glanced through the pages of IASN’s early history and through the decades, I noted familiar themes of leading and advocating legislatively, providing continuing educational opportunities, garnering strategic stakeholder support, and advocating for improved workplace environments. IASN has always been there to advocate and fight for school nursing and the safety of children in our Illinois schools. For me personally, to see the names and stories in Margaret’s book I’ve heard mentioned before (and some who were my mentors), was powerful. Their stories leave me in awe and admiration for their passion and work, paving the way to allow our 600+ members (and future members) to continue to practice school nursing in Illinois.
We are in a critical time of transition in IASN. Over the past few years, our officers and board have courageously opted to change our governance structure and revise our organization’s operating guidelines. We hope in doing this, IASN will be more focused on our members’ needs and strengthening our role in school health and advocacy in Illinois and in NASN. We have leaders in school nursing involved in advocacy for school health issues at national levels. We are watching new leaders emerge with fresh energy, passion, enthusiasm, and excitement for our specialty. The next generation of school nurses are rising up in Illinois to continue the legacy that has gone before them. Margaret would be proud.