Whether it’s a child who fell on the playground or a teen who is undergoing cancer treatment, school nurses see it all. As children are able to attend school with more and increasingly complex medical conditions, school nurses are on the front lines of monitoring, assisting, and advocating for schoolchildren across the nation.
So on May 10, National School Nurse Day, take a few moments to thank a school nurse in your life or in your community. The theme this year is “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Students” to highlight how much school nurses do to improve the health within their communities and how they are excellent and inspiring role models for the students and families who rely on their care.
“The needs of our students are increasing daily and school nurses want to meet those needs so that students have the opportunity to succeed in the classroom to prepare for a healthy and successful future,” says Beth Mattey, MSN, RN, NCSN, and president of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) which created National School Nurse Day in 1972. “School nurses are on the front lines of population health.”
It’s no secret that kids who are healthy in body and mind will perform better in school and have more engaging and satisfying school experiences. “Schools have an energy and vitality about them where children and teens bring untapped potential,” says Mattey. A school nurse is there to offer medical care, but is often a comfort, a cheerleader, a family advocate, and a health care provider experienced with complex and diverse healthcare conditions and needs.
“School nurses have long provided a hidden health care, often working as the only health care provider in the education setting,” says Mattey. “As the needs of our students are growing, the contribution school nurses bring to health AND education of students as a member of the health care team and the education team is increasingly being recognized and valued.”
According to Mattey, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the incidence of children with chronic health conditions are increasing. The Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health says 27.3 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 30.8 percent of teens age 12 to 17 have a chronic health condition. And for many children, their health struggles are compounded by additional factors. “Across the nation, fifteen million children live in poverty,” she says, “and almost 46 million children receive supplemental nutrition assistance. “
And with so many shifting factors, school nurses are seeing steep increases in issues like anxiety than did school nurses of a couple of generations ago. Mattey explains how almost 23 percent of children have been exposed to two or more adverse childhood events which can affect one’s physical and mental health. “School nurses report they spend at least 32 percent of their time addressing mental health needs of students,” says Mattey.
And as laying a foundation for a healthy life begins during the school years, Mattey says this is a great time to help influence healthy choices and behaviors. “For 14 years I worked with teens in our high school to reduce the use of tobacco,” she says. “We developed posters and shared the message across the state through music. We reduced tobacco use by 51 percent in our high school.” Other school nurses work with students in physical activity programs and programs to promote healthy eating.
“It is incredibly fulfilling when we help a child and family manage a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes, or allergies and remain in school,” says Mattey. “School nurses want students healthy, safe, and ready to learn.”
And with school nurses in so many communities, their membership has a powerful base. NASN has 16,000 members in 50 affiliates and overseas who advocate for school children, their communities, and the national health of children.
On National School Nurse Day, acknowledging the complex and essential role school nurses play in both an educational and a community setting is important. “On May 10, school nurses will continue to care for students as they always do,” says Mattey. “This day perhaps, we will walk with an extra spring in our step knowing that the knowledge and expertise we bring to our students and community makes a difference in the lives of our students every day.”