LUMINOUS: Perham school nurse, Sue Seip, persists in pandemic
School Nurse Sue Seip found her passion when she started school nursing 20 years ago, but even prior to that — as she was being raised in Wadena — she’s always been drawn toward nursing as a career path.
Editor's Note: This story is from Luminous, an annual magazine by the Perham Focus that shines a spotlight on notable local women. The magazine was published in November. Read Luminous online in its entirety by CLICKING HERE .
Whether it's a For the past 13 years, students in need of medical assistance at the Perham-Dent schools have been walking into the Health Office and meeting the same friendly face, a face whose owner has helped the Perham-area residents in many more ways than most would know.
“I just really like working with students and families,” said Sue Seip, the Perham-Dent Public School District’s school nurse. “Once I got into (school nursing), I really enjoyed it.”
Seip found her passion when she started school nursing 20 years ago, but even prior to that — as she was being raised in Wadena — she’s always been drawn toward nursing as a career path. When she was just 17 years old, she lost sight in one eye. This was due to a parasite — one that required really strong medication to treat. As a young kid, she had to spend nine days in the hospital due to this parasite for treatment.
”I had the most wonderful nurse those nine days,” Seip said. “Having someone so good to me made me want to go into nursing.”
So, Seip went to school to study nursing for several years in Fargo and Bemidji. Following her graduation, she moved back to Wadena and started her career in public health. While she enjoyed it, she found her true passion when she started school nursing in Wadena.
Seip, now 56 and living outside of Ottertail, has found a place to stay at her current job. In 2008, she began working for the Perham-Dent Public Schools and has stayed busy and passionate ever since. Throughout her time in the area, she's even found a love for spending time on the lake, four-wheeling and walking around outside with her family.
“I knew families in Wadena because I’m from there. I was working with people who were my teachers,” Seip said, reflecting on her first time in school nursing. “(In Perham, I’ve enjoyed) just getting to know a lot of new people and staff. I feel like I’ve gotten to know people well — coworkers, families, administrators and the community.”
And the community has, indeed, gotten to know Seip. She provides healthcare for students in kindergarten all the way through their senior year of high school. So, for the past thirteen years, she’s been able to watch kids grow up and become independent.
“(Oftentimes when you) work with young kids with chronic health issues, they’re dependent on you,” she said. “As they get older, you get to see them become more and more independent. You get to see kids be able to manage their own health conditions and advocate for themselves.”
Seip likes to see herself as a glass-half-full kind of person. Despite the struggles she witnesses and experiences with her job, she’s found plenty of joy in between the lines.
“Watching all of the (students) grow up is fun,” she said. “You get to see someone who’s shy and quiet in their early years become a great leader.”
On the average day, Seip spends her time going between the three school buildings of Perham High School, Heart of the Lakes Elementary and Prairie Wind Middle School. She manages the needed medication of students and helps those who come to the office not feeling well. She continues to do all of this on top of the extra work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as the pandemic hit the world in early 2020, Seip has managed to keep a positive outlook. Her workload has heavily increased throughout the last year and a half, and she’s had to wear plenty of different hats to ensure the safety of students and staff in the Perham-Dent Public School District.
Mitch Anderson, the superintendent of the school district, is one of many impressed with Seip's work. “She's done an incredible job,” he said. “What stands out is that she has never come to me about any complaints. She's taken (the pandemic) head-on and accepted the challenges with a real common-sense approach."
Seip has put in a lot of hours, but she had her experience with public health in her back pocket to reach out and use when the pandemic first hit the Perham area. Her biggest goal has been to keep everybody informed as COVID-19 guidelines are ever-changing, depending on an area’s current situation.
Anderson said she is the one who contacts families about COVID exposure and quarantines and does a phenomenal job taking the lead and keeping everyone updated in a timely fashion as everything changes.
"A lot of people try to make it through a whole day or week without having a difficult conversation," Anderson continued. "But she's calling people oftentimes to give bad news before she's even had a cup of coffee."
Every day, Anderson watches Seip take a no-nonsense approach while continuing to never show her frustrations. She still meets with the Minnesota Department of Health and Otter Tail County Public Health regularly in order to get proper and accurate information to students, family and staff of Perham-Dent Public Schools.
“It gets a bit overwhelming at times,” Seip said, but she tries to stay optimistic. “We’re doing our best to keep everyone as healthy as possible.”
She’s continued to help students with chronic health conditions — such as diabetes and asthma — during the pandemic to give them extra help and monitoring. Seip has also started working closely with paraprofessionals for additional help, especially when it comes to communicating with students’ families.
“Staff, students and families have been very supportive,” Seip said. “There are people who get frustrated, and I understand. (The pandemic has been) been different times for all of us. Just try to look at that positive bright side even though (things are tough).”
Every time there’s a positive COVID-19 case, Seip is the one to calculate dates that staff and students who were exposed can return to school. She has reports to file and COVID-19 test supplies to manage.
For a while, tests were being conducted in-person at the schools, but now there are tests available for students to take home. Seip makes sure to educate the public on ways to receive and complete these tests.
Despite the stress and extra hours Seip has put in throughout the past few months, she’s received a lot of support from everyone around her, from staff to students to families. She’s incredibly grateful for that kindness and backing she’s received through the past few months.
Due to all of her hard work, she was recognized at the Perham-Dent Teacher of the Year at the end of the 2020–21 school year. “Her colleagues identified her last year with all the hard work she'd done,“ Anderson said. “She's not the kind to boast, but it was well-deserving. She earned it.“
“Thank you to those who have been supportive,” Seip said. “To all: keep in mind that we’re all working together to make things as safe and healthy as possible for children… Even though (the pandemic) has been awful, there are good things to come out of it.”
Seip got to spend a lot more time with her family, as many others did too. If someone who’s worked as hard as Seip throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has managed to stay positive despite the struggles, perhaps we all can. As she said, if we all work together, we’ll come out strong on the other end.