The Critical Role of the School Nurse

For many people the notion that a school will have a trained health care professional on duty each day is often taken for granted. The school nurse seems to have always been present on school campuses, bandaging scrapes, dispensing medications and assisting teachers and others with the student body’s health care issues.

However, in recent years, the decline in funding for some schools has led to the decline in the overall presence of the school nurse. Some school districts’ budget cuts have necessitated one school nurse caring for over 1,000 students or even decreased hours for school nurses, meaning they’re only on campus part-time.

How does this ultimately affect the health and well-being of schoolchildren across the country? With more and more children facing health problems that require daily monitoring as well as increasingly overcrowded schools, the role of the school nurse has changed, but is no less critical. Nurses are highly trained professionals and are important liaisons among educators, parents and other health care professionals. It is important to better understand the details of their job to secure the position in the future.

What Does a School Nurse Really Do?

Perhaps some parents feel that a school nurse simply ensures schoolchildren are checked regularly for head lice. However, the role of the school nurse has evolved to reflect the changing medical needs of modern students. Our children have vastly different needs than they did even twenty years ago.

In any given day, a school nurse will take on the regular challenges directly related to students’ health. As many more children take daily medication now than ever before, a school nurse will ensure that medications are dispensed properly. They also educate teachers and other school staff on the functions of the various medicines as well as any side effects they need to be aware of.

School nurses are instrumental in the implementation of individualized education plans for students with disabilities. They work closely with teachers and school district officials to craft educational methods tailored to meet the needs of students who require specialized teaching methods.

Nurses also work with teaching staff to create and implement classes and curriculums that educate students of all ages on the subjects of health and safety. Nurses are active in the physical education and nutrition programs at many schools.

Of course, nurses are also always ready to apply a bandage to a scraped knee and provide much needed reassurance and comfort to children in distress.

Why Do We Need to End the School Nurse Shortage?

In September of 2013 a young girl in Philadelphia died following an asthma attack at school. Because of extensive budget cuts within the district, a school nurse was not on duty to assist her. Teachers were unprepared to recognize the severity of the girls’ symptoms and simply took her home. Her father rushed her to the hospital, but she passed away soon after.

As today’s children experience chronic illnesses and other health issues on a wider scale, it’s imperative that schools are prepared to meet their different and varied medical needs. While that role is best served by a trained nurse, in many cases, school districts simply can’t afford the expense. If they can pay a nurse’s salary, in many cases he or she is tasked with the care of more than one school, and children receive less attention and monitoring.

Childhood obesity and diabetes are critical health issues that are quite prevalent in American children, and school nurses are key factors in the monitoring and treating of these issues. For many students in less affluent areas around the country, the school nurse might be their sole resource for education and awareness about their diseases and the steps they can take to combat them.

What, then, is the solution? Schoolchildren need trained health care experts present at all times, educators need the support given by those experts, and parents need to be able to trust that their children’s medical needs will be adequately monitored. Without school nurses, students’ health could be at risk.

School districts need to recognize the important role that nurses play in the lives of students, teachers and parents. Districts need to task nurses with the care of fewer students, so the nurse isn’t spread too thinly, which causes students to suffer.

Ultimately, it’s about putting the health and well-being of our children first, and that’s a notion that everyone can support.

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