Being a school nurse is a rewarding career filled with variety. When most people think of a school nurse, they may think of someone who tends to skinned knees and tummy aches. But school nurses do much more than put on bandages and pass out cough drops.
What does a school nurse do? From administering first aid to ensuring immunization compliance, school nurses perform a wide variety of duties and often fill a critical gap in services for many students and their families.
What does a school nurse do?
School nurses specialize in providing health care support and promoting student health in schools throughout the country. By bridging the gap between education and healthcare, school nurses ensure the success of students. A student’s ability to learn and succeed in the classroom is directly tied to their health and well-being. School nurses are there to address all the health needs of students and support them to ensure they reach their learning goals.
Working as a school nurse, you will serve as both a direct healthcare provider to students with medical needs and as a policymaker who can help schools plan for scenarios like:
- Contagious disease outbreaks
- On-site medical emergencies
- Optimizing students’ health and performance long-term through school vaccine clinics, health education, and health screening programs
Also, on the list of what a school nurse does is playing the role of a caseworker, assisting families in coordinating students’ healthcare between home and school, as well as assisting in applying for Medicaid or other health insurance assistance programs if the inability to afford healthcare is a factor in poor student health.
School nursing is an especially important function for low-income students whose parents may have difficulty addressing their student’s health challenges without assistance.
What is the difference between a regular nurse and a school nurse?
The most obvious difference between being a school nurse and working elsewhere is the setting. A school is a very different place than a hospital or care facility.
You won’t have as much clinical equipment, and while you may have to deal with injuries and serious traumas, those won’t be routine. As for chronic conditions, they will not usually be severe enough to keep kids away from the daily school routine.
Your work will focus on screening for vision, hearing, and childhood diseases. You will manage immunizations and be responsible for looking out for and addressing risky behaviors like childhood smoking, drinking, and using drugs. You will sign off on health forms and you’ll determine if a child should be sent home for health reasons.
Education will be a necessary responsibility. You will advise staff and students on healthy behaviors and habits. You will probably be deeply involved in making emergency plans and preparing for disasters in your school.
Working conditions are another area where being a school nurse is different. There’s no midnight shift. You will typically work between school hours that usually start just after 7:00 AM and rarely run past 4:00 PM, with no weekend or holiday hours.
When it comes to things a school nurse should know, school nurses need significant expertise and experience. You will need extra certifications and licensing before you can enter the field of school nursing.
Why are school nurses important?
School nursing is essential to the health and safety of students. Other school staff like 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 policies and plans to address student health needs using the latest clinical evidence.
School nurses are playing an expanded role on the front line of community health. They can be the first to detect chronic conditions in children, such as asthma, diabetes, food allergies, oral health issues, and more. They also coordinate care, helping families get access to health services, and then supporting the health of a child throughout the school day.
School administrators need to stay up-to-date on the possibilities and responsibilities of school nurses. And working as a school nurse requires ongoing education throughout your career.
Key responsibilities of a school nurse
In considering things a school nurse should know and what a school nurse does, here are the most common parts of the daily routine:
- Address immediate health issues among students
- Support medically fragile students and those with chronic conditions
- Provide health education to students and staff
- Promote healthy habits
- Conduct health screenings
- Work with administrators in disaster preparedness and response planning
- Act as an advisor and liaison between students, teachers, parents, and healthcare providers
School nurses play a role in a child’s academic success in many ways:
1. Promoting Health Education at School
Working as a school nurse, you will promote health education. You may be called to organize anti-smoking programs, teach about reproductive health, advise on how to make healthy choices, and more.
In addition to programs, you may work one-on-one with students to improve their health and safety outcomes. You will also advise teachers and administrators on how to spot health issues and what to do in response.
2. Providing Important Health Screenings for Students
Various health problems can interfere with a student’s ability to learn. School nurses often implement various types of health screenings, such as hearing and vision tests. If deficits are identified, school nurses refer students to the correct resources so they can overcome any challenges or roadblocks to learning.
3. Responding to School Medical Emergencies
Life-threatening emergencies, such as a severe allergic reaction or an injury from a fall, are only some of the emergencies that you may encounter as a school nurse. You will likely be the first medically trained individual on the scene. In some cases, you may save a child’s life. You will also need to document the event and coordinate with emergency services and emergency room staff.
4. Helping Students with Chronic Health Conditions
Students who have chronic health conditions are at risk of missing school more frequently and not putting forth their best effort when they are in class. As a school nurse, you have the opportunity to help students learn to manage their condition and keep up with their studies. In some cases, school nurses may be the only healthcare provider a child sees on a regular basis.
5. Acting as a Liaison Between Parents and Schools
School nurses play an important role in helping children and their families access the health services they need so students can be successful in school. They may help families apply for Medicaid and other assistance programs. Students may also need mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and family counseling.
School nurses often work together with school counselors to determine appropriate services for children. Outreach services may not only help the student but sometimes the entire family benefits.
How to become a school nurse
Most schools prefer to hire registered nurses. Typically, a two or four-year degree in nursing is required, along with a state-registered nursing license. Many also value national certification by the National Board for Certification of School Nurses.
The experience you need to work as a school nurse varies by district. Most require that you at least have a few years of experience working in a hospital or similar setting. Working experience in pediatrics or emergency medicine is a plus.
Certain traits and skills will improve your success and level of satisfaction working as a school nurse. Since you won’t have a team of medical professionals by your side, you need to be comfortable working independently. You’ll have to multitask and rely on your own good judgment much of the time. Having good communication skills will enhance your ability to work well with teachers, students, and parents.
5 benefits of being a school nurse
Is school nursing the right career for you? Here is a round-up of the top reasons people choose this work.
1. Standard work hours and summers off
Having predictable and convenient working hours is a huge plus. You won’t have to work nights, weekends, or holidays, and you will enjoy winter and spring breaks with a long summer vacation. Having to work overtime is rare. And don’t discount the joy of snow days.
2. Competitive and reliable salary
School nurses are in demand. Many districts report having a shortage. As a result, there’s upward pressure on salaries. How much does a school nurse make? It depends on the district. With plenty of time off, you may be able to take on a second income stream.
3. Lower stress environment with shorter shifts
Nursing is a stressful job in a hospital and many other healthcare facilities. Because you don’t have to put in long hours, deal with a constantly changing schedule, and aren’t always on your feet dealing with seriously ill people, you can enjoy a calm and slower pace of work. Working in an office setting with time between seeing students and dealing with other responsibilities, your stress level in this role is much, much lower.
4. Helping children thrive and stay healthy
Working on the frontline with students, often over a long period of time that can span a semester, school year, or even several grade levels, you have an opportunity to impact lives.
You will be able to grow meaningful relationships with children and help them develop healthy habits and attitudes that can benefit them for life. Working as part of a team with teachers and administrators, you can integrate health awareness, health programming, and materials into daily routines.
5. Great school employee benefits
Most schools also provide good benefits like healthcare, sick pay, continuing education, time off, retirement plans and more. School nurses sometimes get the same or better benefits as teachers. Combined with how much a school nurse makes, the role can be financially rewarding.
What is the hardest part of being a school nurse?
The hardest part of being a school nurse is balancing many responsibilities. Certain times of the year can be quite busy. If you are in a district with limited resources, a heavy caseload can be challenging, especially if you have to work in multiple schools.
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