She has worked in hospitals and clinics, with patients who have suffered spinal cord trauma, brain injuries and a wide variety of other ailments. But Bernadette Bien found her true calling 21 years ago when she took a job as the school nurse at Hidden Valley Elementary in Savage.

Recently, Bernie, as she is known to the more than 600 students and staff at the school, was named the Minnesota School Nurse of the Year. She took some time off from checking temperatures and patching up skinned knees to answer questions about her job:

Q First of all, congratulations about the award. What do you think about it?

A It's still just takes me by surprise.

Q How so?

A As a nurse, especially in a school setting, we are there to support the education of the kids. ... We are there in the background, doing our job. ... I don't feel I've done anything more deserving than another one of my peer nurses. It takes me off guard. ... In my mind, this is what we are supposed to do.

Q What kind of reaction did you get from the school and, in particular, the kids?

A Oh my gosh. Just the excitement from the staff. They totally shocked me with a little celebration gathering.

Q Were the kids even aware of your award? Are they old enough?

A Definitely. The kids in my school are K-6, and even though it's been announced for a while, they still will come up and congratulate me. The kids put together a memory book for me. There's a banner in the hall. So they can't forget me right now. ... The day that it was announced on the loudspeaker a group of sixth-grade girls came up almost singing to me, congratulations. They had so much excitement.

Q How did you decide to get into nursing?

A I just remember my senior year in high school thinking, "What am I going to do?" I knew I wanted to go on to school. ... The only two real careers for a female back then was being a nurse or a teacher. ... I decided to be a nurse, and that day went into the counselor and said, "How do I get into college?"

Q Do you have any relatives in the medical field?

A Not at all, so I am sort of a fish out of water. ... I grew up in a farming community, so I don't know where the nursing came from. But it certainly has been a good fit for me.

Q How did you get into school nursing and elementary school nursing in particular?

A I was working in Dakota County, in the child and health clinic, and really loving my position. ... The school district did some consulting with us, so I got to know the [school district's] director of health services. I wasn't entertaining the thought of leaving at that time, but doors opened up for me and I just knew it was the right thing.

Q You've worked with people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, in high pressure situations. How big a change was it to go from that to dealing with 5-, 6-, 10-year-olds?

A In Dakota County, I was working with young families, education. When you're in a school, you're not just working with a child, you're working with the whole family. ... So it wasn't that much of a change. Even working with spinal cord [patients], that type of nursing focuses a lot on the family. It is different being in a school versus being in a clinic. It's fun to see kids healthy. Even though a lot of times we see them when they are sick, we [also] see them in a school setting when they are healthy. Kids that come into the hospital and the clinic, they are really sick kids. It's fun to see them in a different setting.

Q What kind of injuries or illnesses do you deal with most commonly in a school? Are we talking scraped knees? Colds?

A [Laughs] I thought when I started here 20 years ago that I might not be busy enough during the day. But I eat those words all the time. School nursing is the busiest nursing I've ever done. It is the most rewarding, it's the most unpredictable nursing I've ever done.

Q In what way?

A You never know what's going to come through your door. You never know if you are going to be responding to an emergency, you don't know if you are going to be running to the playground. You never know if someone is going to faint in your room. You never know if a diabetic is going to have a high [blood sugar] number or a low number. You don't know if someone around the corner is going to have a seizure. You always have that unpredictability. And I like that.

Q I'm assuming that you've had to deal with any and all of those things?

A Definitely. We see everything. In general, there are more health conditions. There's more asthma; there's more food allergies. We see the daily bumps and scrapes, stomach aches, headaches. But we see more chronic conditions.

Q Is that because you are more aware of them or because the parents and the administrators make you more aware of them?

A We need to be a part of that care plan with the parents, especially for the diabetic child, the asthmatic child, the food allergy child. ... I'm not really sure why there has been an increase in some chronic conditions, but that is the world that we live in. I'm fortunate that I am part of the plan for those kids so that they are healthy in school, so that they are safe ... and ready to learn.

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281