School nurses are a crucial part of the healthcare team, but many people have an outdated view of their specialized nursing role. School nurses are highly trained medical professionals with multiple degrees, certifications, and annual continuing education to keep up with the ever-changing medical world and community health needs. Their role at the intersection of health and education is far more complex than administering band-aids and ice packs.
Here are a few things you should know about the role of the modern school nurse.
First, few people realize that in Pennsylvania, the caseload for one certified school nurse can include up to 1,500 students distributed over several buildings. This ratio was set in 1957! These caseloads almost always include multiple students who need daily assistance managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. In the US, more than 40% of school-aged students have at least one chronic health condition, and, for these students, the school nurse is the medical professional they see most frequently. This antiquated ratio also does not account for teachers and staff who may also seek medical help from the school nurse during the workday.
School nurses are on the front lines of the current mental health crisis. They are often the first to identify that a student coming into their office with daily stomach aches is actually struggling with an emotional concern.
In addition to dealing with acute and chronic health conditions, school nurses also take on public health responsibilities, educating children on healthy habits, completing and monitoring compliance with state mandated screenings, helping to mitigate the spread of illness in the school, and guiding administrators on environmental health concerns.
School nurses bridge the gap between health concerns and learning. One of the ways they do this is by educating teachers and school staff on accommodations that may be needed for a student to promote success in class.
School nurses have unique insight into the lives of not just students but their whole families. Often they take on the role of helping to connect families to vital social services when they notice a child coming to school hungry every day or without proper clothing.
Across the board, school nurses play a crucial role in building stronger and healthier communities.
We hope that as physicians, you will help educate other healthcare professionals about the crucial role of school nurses and offer them your support and collegial partnership.
Through a partnership with Moses Taylor Foundation, the Lackawanna and Luzerne County Medical Societies has been exploring ways to better collaborate with our region’s school nurses. We’re pleased to share a series of articles over the next few months to open conversations and highlight topics that matter to our regional healthcare community.