Why School Nurses Are Important
From the risk of medical emergencies on school grounds to the students whose grades suffer due to contagious, undiagnosed, or untreated illnesses, schools have many reasons to want a nurse on-site.
The very first school nurse in the United States was hired to improve students’ grades and reduce absenteeism by students who were missing school because they were getting sick. From the very start, school nurses have played crucial roles in stopping the spread of contagious illnesses, keeping schools safe, and helping students to perform their best.
Research has shown that schools with a full-time nurse see improvements in educational outcomes. This can happen in many ways, some of which we’ll discuss below.
What Does a School Nurse Do?
School nurses serve as both direct healthcare providers to students with medical needs, and as policy-makers who can help schools plan for scenarios like:
- Contagious disease outbreaks
- On-site medical emergencies, and
- Optimizing students’ health and performance long-term through school vaccine clinics, health education, and health screening programs.
School nurses may also play the role of caseworker, assisting families in coordinating students’ healthcare between home school settings, and in applying for Medicaid or other health insurance assistance programs if inability to afford healthcare is a factor in poor student health.
This makes school nurses especially important for low-income students, whose parents may have difficulty addressing students’ health challenges without assistance.
How Do School Nurses Improve Academic Outcomes?
We all know how concerning it can be when a student is not successful in the classroom. In many cases, undertreated health concerns can prevent even the smartest students from performing well on tests and school assignments. Some common causes can include:
- Absenteeism due to illness. It’s difficult for students to learn or perform when they miss a lot of school. This can happen when students get contagious diseases at school, or when they don’t have the medical support they need for chronic illnesses at school.The support of a school nurse can reduce absenteeism in several ways, including by identifying and reducing the spread of contagious diseases within the school population, and by providing improved diagnosis and support for chronic illnesses.
- Concentration problems due to illness. Students who are not feeling well often have difficulty concentrating on lectures, homework, and reading.Reducing the spread of contagious diseases and improving on-site support for chronic illnesses can help students feel better so that they can learn better.
- Diagnosis of visual problems. Some students may go years without realizing that their difficulty reading blackboards and books stems from a simple need for glasses.School nurses can provide resources such as visual acuity screening for all students to ensure that something as simple as undiagnosed nearsightedness doesn’t stand in the way of academic success for any of your students.
- Diagnosis of learning disabilities. Students with learning disabilities may need support such as special education teachers, and may be entitled to special testing conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act.School nurses can provide referrals to learning diagnosticians, who can ensure that all students who need special testing accommodations or special education plans can get them. This can improve grades and test scores for some students dramatically.
- Improved mental, physical, and social health. By teaching classes about self-care, nutrition, and even healthy relationships, school nurses can help students feel their best and perform better even if they don’t have an acute illness or disability.Healthier, happier students are higher-performing students. This means that all types of health education and support can help students to achieve academically.
Who Do School Nurses Care For?
School nurses play a critical role in caring for both special education students and the general education population.
For students with disabilities, having a school nurse on-site can be especially important. Special education students may be at higher risk of medical emergencies on school grounds and may need more medications to be administered during the school day to help them feel better and learn better.
General education students also benefit from having a school nurse in big ways. Any student can catch a contagious disease at school, or have a medical emergency on school grounds.
Even students whose performance is okay today could show big improvements in performance with improved medical and health education support.
When Are School Nurses Needed?
Any student can experience a medical emergency following an accident in gym class, wood shop, on the playground, or in the parking lot. School nurses act as emergency first responders when a student is injured or has an acute medical emergency during school.
School nurses are also especially important in times and places where contagious diseases, such as viruses, are prevalent. Often, school nurses may be the only school staff member whose primary job is to look after students’ health and safety.
School nurses may also be the only staff member on-site with training in crucial techniques such as diagnosis, sterilization and sanitization, and plans to halt the spread of a contagious disease within the school district.
Even under routine conditions, school nurses may provide invaluable services by arranging health screenings and vaccination clinics to the student body.
Screenings for conditions such as contagious diseases, nearsightedness and farsightedness, scoliosis, and other conditions that can interfere with learning can improve diagnosis and treatment rates and overall student body performance.
School Nurses Duties and Responsibilities
A school nurse’s specific duties and responsibilities may include:
- Working one-on-one with students to improve their health and safety outcomes.
- Administering any emergency medical care that may be required on school grounds.
- Educating teachers on how to properly protect against and respond to health issues that may arise on school grounds, such as contagious disease spreads or allergic reactions.
- Creating programs to educate students about important health-related topics such as safety, diet, exercise, mental health, and sexual health.
- Working with school administrators to create plans for monitoring and preventing infectious disease outbreaks.
- Helping student families to apply for Medicaid and other healthcare assistance programs.
- Improving the overall academic performance of students and schools by reducing health-related distractions and obstacles to learning.
Why Do We Need School Nurses?
School nurses are essential to the health and safety of our students. Other school staff such as teachers, counselors, and administrators typically do not have medical training. They may not know how to respond to medical emergencies, or how to spot health conditions that may be impairing students’ abilities to achieve academically.
For this reason, the National Association of School Nurses recommends that all schools have at least one full-time nurse on staff, and that this nurse be given the ability to recommend policy changes and school plans to address student health needs using the latest clinical evidence.
Benefits of School Nurses
Having a full-time school nurse benefits students first and foremost. Students with school nurses are more likely to feel better and perform better in school.
Schools with school nurses may experience lower rates of absenteeism related to illness, lower rates of behavioral and attention issues in the classroom, and higher overall attendance, grades, and test scores.
These schools may also experience better safety outcomes in medical emergencies.
Parents of students who have school nurses may experience reduced stress and increased support, as their child’s school nurse can help them to identify and meet their child’s health needs.
School nurses can even assist families in applying for Medicaid and other healthcare assistance programs. This can help all student parents to rest easier, knowing that their students are being looked after by a full-time school nurse.
Teachers working in schools with full-time on-site nurses can expect more support for their students’ health. Nurses can provide personalized education for teachers about any medical conditions that their students might have, and serve as an excellent resource if teachers have concerns about a students’ health interfering with their learning.
School administrators can rest easier knowing that a medical expert is thinking about how to optimize the school’s safety and academic outcomes, and developing plans for health emergencies.
The Importance of School Health Services
School health services can improve school’s safety outcomes and academic outcomes.
Students with poor nutrition, inadequate medical assistance, and inadequate education about health topics are more likely to experience attention, behavior, and absenteeism issues. Students who aren’t healthy can’t concentrate as well and may miss more school.
This is why optimizing school health and safety means optimizing health education, and the availability of health services.
Simple interventions to educate students about safety, self-care, nutrition, sexual health, and contagious diseases may drastically reduce interruptions to a students’ learning career throughout the year.
School nurses are important to both safety and academic outcomes within a school. Having a school nurse on site can reduce learning challenges and absenteeism, while improving a school’s health and safety outcomes.
Hiring a school nurse can be challenging, especially for school districts and administrators whose expertise is primarily in education. The good news is, Sunbelt Staffing is here to help.
With over 30 years of experience hiring the right educational and medical staff for schools of all types, we make it easy to find the perfect school nurse for your setting.
If you think you might be ready to hire a school nurse, or just learn more about the advantages of working with us you can visit our page for education and healthcare employers here.
We look forward to answering your questions soon!