Heidi Baker remembers watching Jane Fonda work-out tapes at a very young age and falling in the love with concept of organized fitness paired with music. Many years later she admits she had no clue then how that would eventually play a role in her life.
Her childhood desires, despite always loving health and fitness, were geared towards her plan to become a news anchor. Baker truly felt she would be the next big thing. This young Macon, Georgia, girl prepared herself for high school graduation and a future in writing and broadcasting. As she was on the brink of entering college, she reconsidered and pursued an entirely different path. No more plans to be the next Barbara Walters, but a plan to choose a career that would allow her to help people through nursing.
After high school graduation, Baker attended nursing school and graduated from Macon College in 1994 as a registered nurse. Her career mainly consisted of working with children in neo-natal or pediatric units. She held various nursing jobs over the years which she considers to be one of the greatest things about nursing. "You can move to other areas as you have the desire to within nursing. But, most of my career has been with infants and children," said Baker.
Her professional career started in Albany, Georgia. After getting married, she transitioned into work at the local hospital in the Intensive Care Nursery with premature and critically ill infants. From Albany, Baker and now ex-husband Cliff moved to the area in 1996 due to his professional opportunity with Gulfstream. The two have children Maggie, 13, who attends Richmond Hill Middle School and Carson, 7, who will attend Richmond Hill Elementary. Despite their marriage ending, the two have remained very close friends while co-parenting their children here in Richmond Hill. As with many, becoming a parent often means a career or professional shift. This proved to be the case for Baker as well.
Knowing she loved working with children and wanting to be available for her own children too Baker pursued a school nursing position within Bryan County School system. Now entering her 7th year as school nurse at Richmond Hill Middle School, Baker also took on the role of lead nurse for Bryan County Schools.
"The greatest part about being a nurse within the school system is the kids and working the same schedule as my own children. If you don’t love kids you wouldn’t last very long in a position like this. I love the funny, awkward age group of middle schoolers. I see them come in as little 6th graders, very timid and figuring it all out. By the time they are in the 8th grade, they have done so much physical growth and matured as they leave for high school. It is great to be able to see this change in them while they are under our care," Baker said.
As lead nurse, Baker is not only responsible for her duties at RHMS she is now responsible for the supervision of 10 other nurses within the county. "I have to supervise them and talk with the assistance superintendent and other admin to help with anything that deals with healthcare services. I am the liaison between the nurses and the board of education," Baker said.
This job is so much more than Band-Aids, tummy aches and ice packs. Although these do fall into the picture from time to time, there are an estimated 1,700 students currently attending Richmond Hill Middle School. This doesn’t include the staff of more than 100, all of which fall under the responsibility of the nurses.
"Most people think we hand out ice packs and deal with tummy aches all day. There are a lot of medically complex children within the school system; diabetic and epileptic to name a few. Other people aren’t aware of these, they don’t see how we take care of them," Baker said. In the event of a student or staff emergency, it all falls on the nurse. According to Baker, anywhere from 60-90 students come through her door daily.
At one point, Baker admits she was struggling with the stress of it all. She asked God to give her a sign and sure enough He came through. "It can be stressful and you always wonder if you are impacting the kids the right way. This last school year, I was extremely busy and was told I had a visitor at school to see me. One of my students from my first year of school nursing had come to see me. He had since oved out of state and had come back to see a friend. He waited on me for 45 minutes. I was shocked. I had prayed and asked the Lord to show me I was making an impact and influencing the kids. He made a special trip up there to see me. I was so excited to see him. He was so grown up and had been taking such good care of himself. You cannot do something for every single one, but I realized there are so many I can impact. It was answered prayer," Baker said.
From those 1980’s Jane Fonda work-out tapes to now, health and fitness has played and will continue to play a role in Bakers life. Not only in the school setting but locally as she works as a Zumba and spin instructor. Organized fitness is another way to grow herself personally and influence others in the community seeking to improve their own health and wellness. Inspiring others to take a chance, knowing that even if you feel embarrassed to try, you are still burning calories. It is better to get moving and focus on yourself than not at all. Baker is excited for the upcoming school year and plans to continue impacting the students she cares for and setting personal health and fitness goals for herself.