Today’s celebration of National School Nurse Day is recognition that school nurses are an integral and essential part of any school community. And while a school nurse’s mission has remained steady over the years, the job responsibilities and job duties have not.
Doreen Crowe, MEd, BSN, RN, is on the board of directors for the National Association of School Nurses and is the Director of Nursing Services for the Wilmington Public Schools in Massachusetts, says the role of today’s school nurse has changed over the years.
“School nursing is a special role that involves managing the health and wellness needs of school-aged children,” she says. “Many children attending school have chronic and acute health conditions. It’s my job to insure these students are receiving necessary support to be in school, safe and ready to learn.”
Children and teens require support to have a good day at school and that can mean a school nurse is there to oversee all kinds of care. “It involves providing care coordination, leadership, standards of practice, quality improvement, and community/public health,” says Crowe, who has been in her role for 16 years. “The ultimate goal is connecting school health with academic success.”
When each day is different, Crowe says planning and time management become both crucial and one of the biggest challenges. “You never know what each day will bring,” she says. “During a typical day, the school nurse can be seen multi-tasking. One minute, she’s assessing a student for illness complaints. Then she’s seeing a student with a scraped knee from recess, followed by a student who recently lost a parent to substance use.”
And the landscape of who is bringing up kids is changing. “It’s also becoming more typical for grandparents to be raising their grandchildren,” she says. Dealing with multiple caregivers and different generations of caregivers becomes a masterpiece of coordination and communication. And when a school nurse is informed of and sensitive to any changes or challenges in a home environment, he or she can help the child with proper resources and support.
School nurses today are more likely to have access to data to determine the types of care they are providing, the number of children who go home early, or how many children with mental health diagnosis is changing. Using this kind of solid information can inform their practices, but can also offer the district administration insight into what a school nurse is dealing with on a regular basis.
And while roles change and responsibilities become more complex, school nurses come to school ready to offer care, comfort, medical services and guidance, and even a spare set of clothes when needed. “The school nurse is always ready for an emergency,” says Crowe, “and is prepared for multiple scenarios.”