School nursing is defined as “a specialized practice of professional nursing that advances the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement of students.” The presence of school nurses has been recorded as early as the 1800s. Their primary responsibility then was ensuring that students with communicable diseases were spotted early on and referred for treatment. Over the years, the role of a school nurse has evolved and become more complicated and involved. Many school nurses now choose to educate themselves in pediatrics and mental health in addition to public health. They are the link between the students and many other agencies such as social services, government health departments, and even school management. In towns where students do not have access to adequate medical aid, school nurses help fill the void.
Role and Responsibilities of School Nurses
It is the duty of the school nurse to take the lead in initiating health activities on campus. They are also entrusted with the duty of creating health awareness amongst students and parents. If students with special needs attend a regular school, the nurse will be entrusted with their welfare. The same applies to children with chronic illnesses or disabilities. The school nurse may have to come up with an individual plan to ensure the child’s best interests are served.
The nurse will have to conduct regular check-ups (PDF) to screen for health conditions that may have an impact on the student’s performance in school. Issues that cause this may be related to vision or hearing. It is the school nurse’s responsibility to detect these as soon as possible so that the ailment can be treated and prevented from worsening. Counseling students on physical and mental health is also a school nurse’s responsibility. They are also expected to check immunizations of students and report any infectious or communicable diseases that may have afflicted a student.
Teen pregnancies, school violence, drugs, and bullying are all issues that affect students now and the school nurse must be prepared to deal with these whenever the need arises. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorses the need for school nurses and specifies the minimum services that should be offered by them. School nurses have to adhere to a code of ethics which focuses on client care along with professional competency and responsibilities. The greater the number of students in a school, the more is the recommended number of nurses to ensure adequate attention to students’ needs.
Qualities of a School Nurse
Characteristics desirable in a school nurse, as in all nursing occupations, are a caring nature and the willingness to address the physical and emotional needs of students. The ability to lend a patient hearing and communicate effectively with children and adults alike about health issues is a must. They must be able to gain the confidence of their wards. Maturity and trustworthiness, combined with a spotless service record are desirable qualities in a school nurse. These cannot be taught as part of nursing programs and must come naturally.
On an average day, the school nurse may have to see as many as 48 students and on a busy day or during flu season this figure could go up to 150. A nurse must, therefore, be patient and emotionally stable enough to handle such pressure. Physical fitness is also essential to take care of sick students each day and to keep from contracting any infections in the course of duty. A school nurse must also keep abreast of the latest medical practices. Precise record-keeping and a good memory will only help in doing the job better.
Education and Training Requirements for School Nurses
Every state has its own set of regulations with regard to school nurse appointments. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) requires them to be licensed registered nurses with a baccalaureate degree from a recognized institute. A high school diploma is the first step towards becoming a registered nurse (RN). The next step is getting an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) which can take up to three years or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) which can take up to four years. A third option is getting a diploma, but very few institutions offer this program. After securing one of these, they must clear the national licensing examination. A BSN is much sought after and offers more options to choose from when looking for (nurse jobs). Accelerated BSN programs can also be pursued in some cases. Many nursing schools have online nursing programs to cater to those who may find it hard to join a regular course.
Additional certifications can be helpful in pursuing a successful nursing career since this indicates greater expertise. The type of certification required will vary depending upon the state where employment is sought. The National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN) was established by NASN to ensure that a certain national standard is maintained in school nursing. A variety of scholarships and awards are also offered by NASN and NBCSN to promote excellence in the field. Most school districts require that the nurses have a valid certification to stay employed. This means that nursing education is constant and does not come to an end with the completion of a (RN program) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN program).
School nurses are usually hired by the local education agency’s boards of education, public health departments, hospitals, private schools, and universities. The pay scale (PDF) for school nurses starts around $25,000 and can go up to $65,000 annually with the average hovering around $43,000. Factors such as educational qualifications, experience, and employer will decide the salary a school nurse takes home each month. One plus is that many school nurses get two months off in summer when school is closed. Most school nurse contracts are for a period of nine or ten months. Full-time and part-time employment options are also available.
Statistics indicate that nearly 2.6 million people were working as registered nurses in 2008. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that about 37,000 nursing jobs were added in March 2011 alone, which is the biggest monthly increase ever. A large chunk of this is expected to go to registered nurses. Government agencies have also culled data which indicates that there is likely to be a shortage of registered nurses(PDF) by the year 2015 and this will not leave schools untouched. This has led to a renewed interest in various nursing courses including online RN programs and online LPN programs.