Educating our children is a job that requires a large, devoted, and skilled team to be successful. Teachers and administrators are among them, but there are other school staffers that deserve a big shout-out, too. Among them are school nurses, who have an important job that largely gets overlooked. Bet you didn't know that school nurses have a national day of their own, to honor their work and accomplishments. It's time we recognized it and gave these caregivers the recognition they've earned.
This year, National School Nurse Day will fall on May 8, 2019, according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). The date is always the Wednesday of National Nurses Week, which itself occurs between May 6-12 annually, per the American Nurses Association. Why this time period in particular? The association explained that the week was established in 1993, and deliberately scheduled so that it would always end on the May 12 birthday of Florence Nightingale, the rockstar of the nursing world.
Nurses as a whole are an amazing, caring, dedicated, and under-appreciated group — and I'm not just saying this because my own mother happened to be one. They do everything from performing exams to administering meds to managing the care of chronically ill patients and educating the public about vital health-care issues.
School nurses have to have at least a licensed practical nurse certificate (LPN) and an associate's degree to be hired, explained Registered Nursing; depending on what state they live in, they also have to meet certain training requirements for certification. The site added that many schools prefer to hire nurses who have already had a number of years of experience in the health care field, since they have to act as the sole medical expert for the entire school.
You may think of your school's nurse as simply the person who patches up scraped knees during recess time, or the one who calls you when your child throws up, has a fever or an active case of (ugh) lice. And it's true that school nurses handle these situations on a daily basis. But they do so much more that many of us aren't aware of.
As the Every Nurse organization site outlined, school nurses may perform a wide variety of functions, depending on their training and the school's needs. They have to know how to respond to emergencies such as seizures, cardiac events, and anaphylactic shock in children with severe food allergies. They help students with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, manage their health and medications. They may be responsible for conducting vision or hearing screenings to detect problems that could interfere with a student's ability to learn.
School nurses are often part of the team that assesses possible developmental delays in young children and helps design an individualized education plan (IEP) that ensures a quality school experience for each student. Nurses in middle and high schools work to curb tobacco, drug, and alcohol use in students, and educate the student body on sexual health and pregnancy prevention. They also are trained to spot signs of depression and other mental disorders, and may act as counselors for children whose home situations are stressful. As the National Education Association pointed out, a school nurse may be the only medical professional a child ever sees.
My own niece is one of the many wonderful and devoted school nurses who work with students who have severe health problems requiring advanced care. These nurses may help feed children who receive nutrition through a gastrostomy tube, perform catheterizations on children who can't use the bathroom independently, or monitor the tracheotomy tubes of children who need assistance breathing.
A school nurse's work benefits the entire school, too. As the NASN explained, nurses save teachers 20 minutes a day and principals an hour that they might have spent helping a sick or injured child. They're also responsible for helping lower absenteeism in schools, particularly in students with asthma — which also translates to fewer days that parents have to miss work to care for a sick child.
So let's make it a point this year to mark May 8 on the calendar and thank the school nurses in our lives for all they do to keep our children healthy and their schools running smoothly.