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Sugar House Journal

SL School District nurse receives 2021 Utah School Nurse of the Year Award

Jan 10, 2022 16h12 ● By Lizzie Walie

Judi Yaworsky is the 2021 recipient of the Utah School Nurse of the Year Award. (Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City School District)

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Judi Yaworsky is this year’s recipient of the Utah School Nurse of the Year Award. The award, which has been around since 1999, is gifted to a single recipient each year by the Utah School Nurses Association. The award honors those nurses who go above and beyond their call of duty by demonstrating solid ethics, a genuine care for children’s well-being, and the ability to act with integrity in the midst of adversity. 

Yaworsky, who is the lead nurse for the Salt Lake City School District, has worked in schools throughout the district providing care for students between the ages of four and 24. Yaworsky graduated from the University of Utah in 1986. Following her graduation, she began working at Primary Children’s Hospital. For several years she enjoyed her time at the hospital, gaining experience and refining her skills. 

“I loved working in the pediatric intensive care unit,” Yaworsky said. “During that time I gained a lot of valuable experience and realized that pediatrics is where I belonged, where I felt most useful.” 

Despite her love for the hospital and the knowledge she gained in the intensive care unit, Yaworsky had aspirations of working in the school system. In 1992, she transitioned into school nurse work and never looked back. She has been with the Salt Lake City School District for 14 years.

“I knew I had found my calling and from that point on I never looked back. Through all the trials and tribulations this is the job I know I was meant to do,” she said.

While the work has always been worth it for Yaworksy, it hasn’t always been easy. In her 14 years with the school district, Yaworksy has faced a number of challenges from statewide school nurse shortages to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“When it came to 2020…well…there was just nothing like it,” Yaworsky said. “Even with decades of practice, how do you ever really prepare for something like that?”

The ways in which the pandemic changed day-to-day life are almost innumerable, nevertheless, Yaworsky shared that in spite of the overwhelming negative effects of Covid-19 on healthcare, there are certain silver linings.

“There used to be this mentality for us to power through, whether in work or in school. We’d hear it from bosses, from peers, even parents. But this pandemic has helped us to realize that’s really not the best thing to do,” she said.  

While Covid-19 is the most notable challenge Yaworsky has faced to date, it is far from the only one. In fact, back in 2017, Utah schools were making national headlines due to a school nurse shortage. During that year, school nurses in the state were left with six times the recommended students under their care. As enrollment in the state continued to trend upward, the struggle to find quality competent nurses persevered.  

If the school nurse shortage was alarming in 2017 it was amplified in 2020. At that time, Utah had one nurse for every 4,893 students. In other states, this ratio is far less disparaging. The coronavirus amplified the shortage, making contributions from workers like Yaworsky pivotal. 

Despite the challenges that Yaworsky has faced both recently and in her nearly four decade career, there was never a second thought that she would fold or succumb to the pressure. In the end, she knew it was her duty to buckle down and get to work.

“We do whatever we have to do. That’s always been my mentality. That’s what we as school nurses do. Sometimes you can’t think too much about it, you just have to get it done,” she said.

As far as her peers are concerned, Yaworsky received praise across the board for her compassionate approach, impressive competence, and her ability to persevere and get to work in the midst of pandemonium. 

A parent, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke in detail about Yaworsky’s work with her son who suffered from developmental setbacks. For children with disabilities and cognition issues, school can oftentimes feel like an unfriendly place. 

“I was afraid to send him to school, even though I was told that he was behind developmentally, and it would be good for him. I felt like he was still just a baby, and I could not protect him at school. Then came Judi, with her big eyes and a big smile. She helped me understand how his health care would be a priority with the District, and how it would work,” the parent said. 

Yaworsky seems to have mastered the art of bedside manner. She’s direct, competent, and to the point, but never at the risk of alienating or isolating students. At a point in time where they’re fragile and generally trusting of authority, that’s the time when it’s imperative for healthcare workers to leave a lasting impact, she said. 

The parent continued to praise Yaworsky’s proactive attitude. “She eased my mind about his health care needs and how they could be managed while he still has a full school experience. She fully included me and my husband in writing his Health Care Plan and met with us and the IEP team to coordinate and make sure everyone was on the same page and felt confident and positive about proceeding with him attending school.”

Despite the praise and the award, Yaworsky remains humble.

“I just do what I have to do,” she said. “Show up every day and put my head down.”