A registered professional school nurse is considered the initiator and leader of health policies and programs within her affiliated school, according to the National Association of School Nurses. The school nurse also provides both health care services and adequate health education to all students under his or her care.
Using clinical knowledge in conjunction with judgment congruent to professional training, the school nurse provides wellness screenings and referrals to private health care providers to students and staff alike. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that there are currently around 75,000 registered nurses operating in schools across the United States.
Importance of 21st Century School Nurses
The student’s ability to learn new information is directly related to his health. That is; students with unmet or chronic health challenges struggle to engage adequately with the process of education. This is crucial to understand because, according to recent studies, the number of school-aged children with chronic health conditions like epilepsy, obesity, and anxiety disorders has markedly risen over the last two generations.
Due to this increase of students with chronic conditions, school nurses need to be able to respond to a gamut of special health care needs and be well-versed in esoteric medical treatments and technically challenging medical equipment.
Since school nurses are required to enroll in continuing education beyond their hands-on bachelor’s credentialing, today’s school nurses can act autonomously to gauge student health, operate as first responders, and engage in tracking compliance to immunization and the incidence of disease.
Educational Plan Development and Modern Needs
In addition to autonomously making diagnoses and operating as first responders, school nurses in the 21st century are expected to be leaders of school health care initiatives, as well as members of educational plan development teams. The two aims of an educational plan development team are to optimize the student’s educational experience while laying the groundwork for responding to urgent health situations.
An educational plan is coordinated in conjunction with parents, guardians, and the student’s primary care physician. Communication should also be ongoing between these parties and case managers or sub-specialists, such as speech pathologists working in the school district.
School nurses need to collate all relevant information, such as special provisions for routine health care procedures and the student’s special needs, and convey this information to primary care physicians or even insurance companies. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics provides an Emergency Information Form that the school nurses can use as a touchstone for formulating a student’s individual medical protocol.
Credentialing and Prevalence of School Nurses
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends one licensed school nurse per 750 students, though individual states may have different requirements. Certification for these school nurses takes place at the state board-level; that said, the minimum expectation for all school nurses working in the United States is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.
On a day-to-day basis, the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged school nurses to work more closely with the student’s primary care physician, as well as sub-specialists and other school personnel. A comprehensive school health care initiative can also help students with special needs find appropriate social services at the community level.
The goals of a school health care initiative, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, should be in alignment with the following principles: engagement with primary health care providers; protocols for crisis medical situations; mandated monitoring of immunization and screening; and most importantly, special attention to all health care challenges that potentially impinge on the student’s educational needs.