Donna Heller

Donna Heller said nurses and health assistants "make the schools safe for students to come in and particpate to their fullest in the educational process." Heller has spent the last 10 years of her 30-year career in the Howard County school system as director of health services. (Staff photo by Sarah Hogue / June 27, 2012)

Donna Heller might be busier in retirement than she was in the job she's leaving behind.

"I had so many plans I had to reframe my thinking. I was getting so booked" she said. "There's so much to do ... I want to work part-time, I want to volunteer, I'm going on vacations. Everyone's booking me up."

Heller has been the school system's director of health services for the last 10 years. She has been with the system for 30 years, first as a school-based nurse at Cedar Lane School and then a health services specialist.

"I've seen health services really change, from around 40 schools with health assistants and three specialists supervising them, to having assistants at all the schools with cluster nurses, too," she said. "The needs of the students have really driven the changes in staffing."


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As technology improved and treatments changed, so too did health services, Heller said. Now, there are students who have to eat twice a day because of their insulin levels, students that require medication daily — either pills or shots — and students that require nebulizer treatments because of their asthma.

Before she worked in education, Heller was an intensive care nurse. When she moved to Howard County, she was looking for part-time work in a field she loved, and began a job as a substitute nurse before taking a full-time position at Cedar Lane School.

"I thought I would stay in intensive care, I just loved it so much," she said. "I thought I would always be there. But as school health evolved, it was a new experience and even allowed me to use some of the skills I'd learned in intensive care in the schools as well."

The best part about her job, Heller she, is the diverse nature of the work. Nurses care for children of all ages as well as staff members, and professional development programs allow nurses to keep up with the latest information in their field.

"I think nurses and health assistants do their jobs so well that they're not always noticed," she said. "You almost don't know they're there because they do everything so easily and quietly and effectively ... if they weren't there, it would no longer be a safe and healthy environment. They're what make the schools safe for students to come in and participate to their fullest in the educational process."