School nurses play a vital role in the education system. They are there to lend a hand during emergencies, of course, but, on a day-to-day basis, they strive to enhance academic performance by improving student attendance. They can also help kids develop healthy habits that they will carry with them long after graduation.
If you are a nurse and you love working with kids, becoming a school nurse could be a great career path. The benefits of working as a school nurse are numerous, but there are still plenty of things that you should be aware of.
School Nurses Are First Responders for Acute Illnesses and Injuries on School Grounds
Sometimes, kids fall ill or get sick when they are at school. When that happens, the school nurse is the first responder who is responsible for assessing the severity of the situation and providing the appropriate intervention. They determine whether it is necessary to send a sick or injured child home or to the emergency department or if they can safely remain in school.
School nurses also provide basic first aid, such as bandaging scrapes suffered in playground accidents.
Keep in mind that, as a school nurse, you’ll likely be exposed to childhood illnesses on a daily basis, especially if you work in an elementary school. Things like head lice, chickenpox, and asthma attacks are pretty much daily occurrences, so you need to be prepared to handle such things regularly. If the thought of lice is something that makes your skin crawl, you may want to consider a different career path.
Preventing the Spread of Communicable Diseases Is Part of the Job
When communicable diseases—like colds and the flu—spread through schools, they result in numerous absences and interfere with students’ ability to learn. As a school nurse, one of your main responsibilities will be monitoring and preventing the spread of illnesses.
School nurses keep track of the complaints students make when they come into the office. They also monitor the reasons for student absences. If there is a trend that indicates an illness is working its way through the school, they are responsible for implementing measures to help prevent the spread. They may also need to inform the school district of certain illnesses are popping up more frequently than usual so that parents can be notified and the appropriate action can be taken to address the problem.
You will likely assist the school district with things like promoting vaccines and educating students on parents on simple infection control measures. In some instances, you may also need to provide education to members of school staff and the community.
School Nurses Help Students Manage Chronic Conditions
Every school district is impacted by children’s health problems. Under federal law, physically and mentally challenged students must be integrated into the general student population. As a school nurse, it is your responsibility to help those kids attend classes and learn.
Nurses work with patients and students to ensure that chronic conditions are properly managed. They administer medications and treatments during school hours and, when necessary, help parents learn how to better care for their children outside of school hours. School nurses also work with teachers at times to help them better understand how to teach their special needs students.
You’ll Work as Both a Nurse and an Educator
One of the most rewarding parts of being a school nurse is you get to educate kids on how to care for themselves and their bodies. You will likely be placed in charge of developing educational programs that the entire student body will benefit from. You’ll get to help kids with difficult topics like bullying, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen pregnancy.
You may also have opportunities to work with school staff on projects like coming up with healthier school lunches and promoting physical activity. You’ll also coordinate health screenings and things like first aid and CPR training for staff members.
The Working Environment Can Change
You may spend a lot of time in the nurse’s office, but that’s likely not the only place you’ll be. If a child gets hurt on the playground, you’ll need to run outside to assist. You may also be needed in the gym, in a classroom, or anywhere else on school grounds. Because the working environment can change, you need to be prepared for anything. Keep a men’s scrub jacket in your office to make sure you’re ready if you need to go outside or into a cold environment.
It’s also a good idea to invest in comfortable nursing footwear. Again, you could end up running all around the school during the day, so you need to be prepared.
The Job Can Be Uncomfortable
When you work as a school nurse, you have to face all sorts of uncomfortable situations head-on. If, for example, you work in a middle school or high school, you will likely play a large role in providing sex education for students. You may have kids come to you to ask difficult questions that they are afraid to ask their parents or teachers, and you’ll need to provide them with factual, age-appropriate answers.
You may also need to advocate for the students in your care. There may be situations in which you need to collaborate with guidance counselors and/or social workers if a student exhibits signs of abuse or neglect. If a parent is not complying with their child’s medical goals, you may need to contact their pediatrician. These situations can be extremely uncomfortable, but it is your responsibility to advocate for the students in your care and do what it takes to ensure their health and well-being.
Being a school nurse is not an easy job, but it’s a very rewarding one. If you love working with kids and want to make a real difference in their lives, pursuing a career in school nursing could be right for you.
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