Most of us can recall at least one encounter with a school nurse during our childhoods. Perhaps your school nurse was the comforting presence you needed when you suddenly came down with a raging fever, or put your mind at ease while patching up a playground injury. But while these experiences are certainly common, school nurses do much more than take temperatures and slap bandaids on scraped knees. And their job is ever-evolving.
Today, we’re delving into the role of the modern school nurse: what they do, the sort of environments they work in, and a few things to consider if you’re contemplating this career path.
History of School Nursing
Before we dive into the job duties and expectations of a 21st-century school nurse, it’s important to understand the foundations of this role.
According to a San Diego County Office of Education report, school nursing began nearly 120 years ago when New York City schools hired a nurse named Lina Rogers to help reduce absenteeism by treating simple cases and educating families on healthcare needs related to infectious diseases. The experiment was so successful in improving student health and decreasing absentee rates that school nurses became commonplace across the New York City school system.
Lina Rogers also collaborated with charities to provide children in underserved populations with food and clothing, and advocated for illness-prevention programs, school dental and hearing screenings, and classroom hygiene lessons. Eventually, she was asked to replicate her school nursing model in other cities, and, thanks largely to her work, school nurses soon became a staple in public schools.
In fact, despite the Great Depression and resulting poverty of the 1930s, school nurses helped immunize thousands against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis and significantly decreased rates of child mortality throughout the following decades.
What are Common Duties of a School Nurse?
According to the National Association of School Nurses, “School nursing is a specialized practice of nursing that advances the wellbeing, academic success, and lifelong achievement and health of students. Keeping children healthy, safe, in school, and ready to learn should be a top priority for both healthcare and educational systems.”
School nurses help uphold this mission by treating injuries and sudden illnesses, like colds and flu viruses, and assisting children living with chronic diseases and disabilities, like diabetes, asthma, and autism spectrum disorders. Nurses may administer insulin injections, dispense daily medications, and even develop care plans for individual students.
A school nurse is typically responsible for keeping up with students’ vaccine records and medical history and writing referrals to pediatricians and health specialists. They help detect dental, hearing, and eyesight issues through regular on-site screenings, ensure students engage in good hygiene practices like hand-washing, and mitigate outbreaks of conditions like lice and ringworm.
In some cases, school nurses also collaborate with school counselors and therapists to promote mental health awareness among school faculty and ensure children with mental or behavioral health issues get the help they need.
3 Things to Consider if You Want to Be a School Nurse
As a nurse, you have several possible career path choices — all of which come with their benefits and challenges. Here are a few things you should know before taking the plunge into a school nursing career.
- You will play a critical role in community public health
A whopping 5.7 percent of children are uninsured — which translates to about 726,000 kids since 2016, according to data from Georgetown University. And given the soaring costs of healthcare, many families are unable to afford the treatments their children need. For some students, school nurses are their only contact with a professional healthcare provider. And while you may not be able to give children all the services they need, you can help connect families with local charities, nonprofit organizations, community clinics, and other essential health and wellness resources.
- Education will be a significant part of your job
School nurses often develop educational programs for students as well as faculty and staff. You’ll likely be responsible for educating children on how to take care of themselves, including proper hygiene and nutrition. You may also have to engage in difficult conversations with students about topics like bullying and, for older students, avoiding substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.
- You’ll face plenty of challenges
Depending on the environment and school system where you work, you may grapple with everything from funding cuts to furloughs. Additionally, with so much uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, your workday and environment may change dramatically from one day to the next. You may also be responsible for ensuring your school upholds federal and state health laws, as well as CDC recommendations (like mask-wearing) to curb the spread of the virus within your school.
School nurses are vital to improving public health, ensuring proper management of chronic disease and disabilities, and helping children establish good life-long habits. Like most roles in the nursing profession, this job has its hurdles and difficulties, but it can also be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. A school nurse can make a significant difference in the lives of not only the children they care for, but also childrens’ families and the community as a whole.