A Newport-Mesa Unified School District nurse has been recognized by the Orange County School Nurses Organization with its School Nurse of the Year award.
Michelle Moricca — who works at Killybrooke Elementary School, TeWinkle Middle School and the district's HOPE Clinic, all in Costa Mesa — has been with Newport-Mesa since 2005. She received her award Aug. 16 during a banquet at the Knott's Berry Farm Hotel in Buena Park.
The Santa Ana resident and Newport Beach native has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years. She started her career at Hoag Hospital in Newport and then took time off to raise her children. Eventually, though, she wanted to return to work and heard about school nursing positions.
They sounded appealing — no nights or holidays. It became her calling.
Still, the difference in duties between schoolyards and Hoag "was quite an eye-opener," Moricca said in an interview at Killybrooke. School nursing duties are "not what we are trained for."
In a hospital setting, nurses often work in teams; all needed equipment is nearby. At Newport-Mesa, though she is aided by health assistants, she's generally an RN on her own.
Though many have images of school nurses putting on Band-Aids for cuts and scrapes, Moricca's day-to-day duties can be more technical. Much of her time is spent working with special-education students. She monitors children with diabetes, allergies or asthma and their medical equipment, like ventilators or gastrostomy tubes. Moricca also coordinates with school psychologists and helps connect children — many of whom lack healthcare — with services.
Sometimes that means giving eye exams for children who need glasses but have never worn them.
"When I help a student really see for the first time, it feels really good," Moricca said.
Moricca said she felt surprised to received the award, noting that her colleagues would be equally deserving of it.
"All nurses here work hard," she said. "I didn't do anything different."
Merry Grasska, Newport-Mesa's coordinator of health services, nominated Moricca.
"Michelle is exemplary in her school nursing practice and serves as a mentor and resource for school nurses and other staff," Grasska said in an email. "Our entire team in health services is very proud of Michelle and I am thrilled she has received this level of recognition."
Pam Atkins, president of the Orange County School Nurses Organization, said nurses like Moricca "are the unsung heroes for the children and families in our communities."
"She is well deserved of this award for her accomplishments and the meaningful work she has done to enhance and promote the health of her students, families and the Costa Mesa community," Atkins added in a statement. "As a school nurse leader, she is the bridge to the healthcare and academic success of the schoolchildren in Costa Mesa."