When many Americans think about the term school nurse, they envision a nice lady sitting at a desk applying Band-Aids to scraped elbows, taking temperatures, and allowing kids to nap on the vinyl upholstered cots in her office. Indeed, most of us have no idea what school nurses actually do. The reality is that school nurses deal with far more severe medical and emotional issues on a daily basis than most realize.
Take Linda, for example. Linda is a school nurse in a large rural school district that has three elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. She splits her time among the six schools. Just in the last week, Linda has:
Linda’s story is just a glimpse into the daily work of a typical school nurse in the US, but it is illustrative of the many ways that school nurses are—or should be—leaders in improving child and adolescent health.
With few exceptions, laws across the country have not recognized the critical role that school nurses can play in improving the health and wellbeing of the next generation. For example, only Delaware requires a full-time registered nurse in every school.[ii] Many jurisdictions require districts to “share” a school nurse or do not have one at all. Many of the benefits that school nursing provides can only be realized if the nurse is always in the school, building relationships with the students, parents, and school staff. For example, a school nurse will realize that a student who is routinely coming to her office with a “stomachache” may actually suffer from anxiety, but she will not be able to make this connection if she isn’t in the building enough to notice.
In partnership with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the Network is developing a number of resources on legal issues related to school nursing, such as ensuring access to school nursing services for all students, school nursing scope of practice laws, and the role of school nurses in a variety of public health concerns affecting children and teens, including concussions and chronic absenteeism. The Network’s school nursing page will be updated regularly with information on laws that impact school nurses and how law and policy can improve child and adolescent health, beginning in our schools.
This blog was developed by Kerri McGowan Lowrey, Deputy Director, Network for Public Health Law Eastern Region Office and Donna Mazyck, Executive Director, National Association of School Nurses.
Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, RWJF.