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"I Just Wanted to Make a Difference": Springer Named One of 100 Great Iowa Nurses - from The Messenger

March 8, 2021

Juli Springer working at desk in her nurse's office

Juli Springer always wanted to do something that would help others. She thought she might become a teacher or even a nurse.

It was a stay in the hospital to remove her tonsils and appendix when she was a teenager that helped solidify her future as a nurse.

During her hospital stay all those years ago, Springer remembers a nurse named Marcia that she really took to.

“I looked forward to her shift when she came on,” Springer said. “She laughed and was fun.”

During a time when she was in pain and was not in control of her own health, the nurses eased her anxieties and looked after her. It was Marcia and the other nurses on the floor who inspired Springer to study nursing at the University of Iowa’s School of Nursing.

“I just wanted to make a difference in others’ lives and be a good nurse like what I had,” she said.

Springer graduated from Iowa in 1988 and started as a registered nurse at what was then Trinity Regional Hospital in Fort Dodge.

“I started on 3 East and then I went to 2 North and then I went to home health care hospice for a long time,” Springer explained. “And then I was a case manager of OB and pediatrics.”

Then, in 2000, Springer left the hospital to take her current role as the school nurse at Cooper Elementary School.

“I loved the hospital,” Springer said. She didn’t want to leave, but her last two jobs with the hospital required carrying a beeper and a lot of calls in the middle of the night and on weekends. She and her husband, Steve, had two young boys at the time and they wanted to put the boys in activities like baseball.

“We just decided to take the plunge,” Springer said of quitting her job at the hospital and taking a lower-paying position with the school district. Despite the pay difference, Springer has had no regrets over the last 20 years. “I’m still glad to this day (Steve) let me do it.”

Being a school nurse was the “absolute perfect dream” because it combines Springer’s aspirations of being a nurse and being a teacher.

As a hospice nurse — during a time when Fort Dodge did not have a hospice house — Springer would make frequent visits to patients’ homes. She enjoyed spending time with the patients and their families and helping the families through the loss of their loved one and helping them make the best of what time they had left.

“They didn’t have much quantity with the time they had left, but you tried to give them the best quality for that patient and that family,” she said.

As a school nurse, Springer knows the impact she can have on her students. It might be letting a student who has had trouble sleeping at night take a short nap in her office, or it might be giving them a snack because they missed breakfast and now they can’t concentrate in class, or it might just be making sure the student knows they’re loved by someone.

“The biggest thing is those kids love that you give them your time and you make them feel better,” she said. “Some of them just don’t have people who can give them the time and meet their needs.”

Springer, with more than 30 years of nursing experience, was recently named one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses of 2021.

Each year, the 100 Great Iowa Nurses program solicits nominations for outstanding nurses to recognize. Springer’s niece nominated her for the honor this year, among other reasons, because Springer inspired her to become a nurse as well.

The 100 Great Iowa Nurses are usually honored at a special ceremony and dinner in Des Moines during National Nurses Week, but due to COVID-19, the event will be held virtually this year.

“Nurses selected for this honor represent many sectors of health care, working as nurses in hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools and offices,” the organization says on its website. “They come from all practice areas in nursing, including acute care, sub-acute care, school nursing, nurse leaders, academics and many more. This statewide event belongs to the people of Iowa, and is made possible through the generous support of our sponsors.”

The last year has been a hard one for Springer. She went months without seeing her Cooper students every day after schools closed in mid-March of 2020 until the fall. Her husband, Steve, was diagnosed with cancer and died in May.

When she got the letter notifying her of the recognition, Springer said she initially felt embarrassed.

“It’s really cool i got it and I totally appreciate it, but I wanted to keep it quiet because there are a trillion other great nurses out there and they just weren’t nominated,” she said.

But now she’s had some time to get used to the idea.

“It means the world to me, because, like I said, there’s a million great nurses out there,” Springer said. “I’ve worked with some amazing nurses and I give them credit for helping make me the nurse and the person that I am.”

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