Many will remember the school nurse’s office as a place where you went to lie down if you felt ill and to wait for a parent to pick you up. The nurse might also have checked your temperature and dispensed an aspirin.
But today’s school nurses do so much more.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, modern school nurses:
» Assess health complaints, administer medication and care for students with special health care needs.
»Develop contingencies for managing emergencies and urgent situations.
» Manage health screening, immunizations and infectious disease reporting.
» Identify and manage chronic health-care needs.
In fact, school nurses are the primary caregiver to a large portion of students living in rural areas that lack other health-care access. They perform a critical role in the community to identify unmet health needs and foster the relationship between health and education, resulting in increased academic achievement, improved attendance and better graduation rates.
According to the academy’s position paper, school nurses and pediatricians — both community- and school-based — working together can be a great example of team-based care, providing comprehensive health services to students, families and their communities.
As more children with special health-care needs enter schools, the school nurse becomes a vital link helping both students and families to reinforce treatment during and after the school day.
Many children enter the school system with such issues as attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, life-threatening allergies and seizures. School nurses, often working with a school pediatrician, develop medical recommendations and administration in the school environment and often beyond.
School nurses are also the first-responders to students suffering injuries incurred during sports or extracurricular activities. In the event of an emergency, school nurses may be among the first to treat any wounded students.
They also play a critical role identifying parental noncompliance with medical home goals, the academy reports, or if neglect or abuse is suspected.
It’s clear that times have changed dramatically since the first school nurse was appointed in New York City in 1902. That nurse, Lina Rogers, tended to the health-care needs of more than 8,000 students in four schools. Because of her success in reducing absenteeism, the system added 12 more nurses and all but eradicated absences due to medical conditions.
Although their duties and mandates have expanded since that time, the core role of the school nurse hasn’t changed: Attendance is key to academic achievement. Keeping students healthy helps ensure they achieve success and develop healthy practices during the school years and well into their adult lives.