Meyers High school nurse Karen Kwak has always known she wanted to help others.
But if it were not for the encouragement of friends at Wilkes University (then Wilkes College), Kwak might have never become a nurse.
Kwak, 56, began her college career in 1979 with her future “wide open.”
”I originally thought that I wanted to work with autistic children,” she said. “But then I saw other students who were going for nursing, and I made a decision for follow that path.”
Kwak, who went on to get both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Wilkes started out as at labor and delivery nurse and “loved it.”
But in 2004, when Kwak was offered the opportunity to become a school nurse, working at St. Nicholas-St. Mary’s and Dodson elementary schools, she jumped at the chance.
“My youngest daughter was at St. Nick’s, and I envisioned spending eight years in the same spot with her,” she said.
In a twist of fate, before she was to report for her first day, the district changed its plan.
“I was told to report to Meyers,” she said. “So my plans didn’t quite work out the way that I thought.”
But, right from the start, Kwak’s particular skill set dovetailed perfectly with her new job.
“Those first years, there were a lot of pregnant girls at the school,” she said. “My experience in labor and delivery just drew me to them. I like to think I made a difference.”
Kwak continues to make a difference in the lives of students.
In addition to assisting students with health care problems – that range from chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes to very minor ones such as cuts and bruises – Kwak provides a listening ear.
“Sometimes students don’t feel like they can talk to their mothers,” she said. “So I try to support them. Some students come to school with problems and baggage they need to resolve in order to learn.”
She said has also taken time to do things such as fill out applications for school or employment in a pinch for students who really just need to know someone cares.
And although Kwak loves her job as a nurse, she admits that it comes second to her primary job – wife and mother.
“I guess being a nurse helped me be a better mother and being a mother makes me a better nurse,” she said.
Kwak, who lives with her husband, attorney Karl Kwak, in Wyoming, enthusiastically talks about her three adult daughters and how her relationship with them is a top priority.
Kwak doesn’t seek out accolades, but she said she sometimes comes upon them by accident.
“A young lady who attended Meyers and was in the Women with Children program at Misericordia University was being interviewed,” she said. “And when they asked her how she found out about the program, who made it possible – she said her school nurse.”
Kwak doesn’t know what her future might hold, but she’s open to the possibilities.
“I’ve always wanted to teach and my Master’s is in nursing education,” she said. “so that might be part of my future.”