Since being introduced over a century ago, the school nurse role has evolved,
becoming increasingly more important. Back in 2008, the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended one school nurse to every 750 students. With the growing complexity
of student health issues, the AAP now recommends that there be at least
one full-time nurse employed at every school.
What is the role of a school nurse? “Health issues, big or small, are all barriers to learning,”
explains Jennifer Lindsay, MSN, RN, NCSN, who serves as the school health
Catawba County Public Health. “School nurses are in place to help eliminate health issues as
roadblocks to students’ success in school.”
Catawba County Public Health outlines a school nurses’ responsibilities
into eight roles:
Health Services: Serves as the coordinator of the health services program and provides
Health Education: Provides health education to students, staff and parents
Healthy Environment: Identifies health and safety concerns in the school environment and promotes
a nurturing social environment
Nutritional Services: Supports healthy food services programs
Physical Education/Activity: Promotes healthy physical education, sports policies and practices
Counseling: Provides health counseling, assesses mental health needs, provides interventions
and refers students to appropriate school staff or community agencies
Parent/Community Involvement: Promotes community involvement in assuring a healthy school; serves as
school liaison to a health advisory committee
Staff Wellness: Provides health education and counseling, promotes healthy activities
and helps create a healthy environment for school staff
Why are they important? According to the
National Association of School Nurses (NASN), there are five ways a school nurse benefits the school:
Attendance: School nurses improve attendance through health promotion, disease prevention
and disease management. Students with a full-time school nurse have about
half the student illness- or injury-related early releases from school
compared to schools where no school nurse is present.
Academics: Improved attendance means the healthy student is in the classroom and
ready to learn. School nurses enable better performance, which also contributes
to reducing drop-out rates.
Time: School nurses save time for principals, teachers and staff. A school nurse
in the building saves principals, teachers and clerical staff a considerable
amount of time that they would have spent addressing health concerns of
students. Specifically, a school nurse in the building saves principals
almost an hour a day, teachers almost 20 minutes a day and clerical staff
more than 45 minutes a day.
Staff Wellness: School nurses improve staff members’ general health. According to
school reports, principals, teachers, and clerical staff are satisfied
with having school nurses in their schools because it enables teachers
to focus on teaching, office staff spend less time calling parents and
sending students home and having a healthy staff means increased attendance
and productivity all around.
Accountability: School nurses help schools stay accountable by promoting compliance with
federal and state law, which mitigates lawsuits. Nurses also prepare for
emergencies, which can save lives and property and they address student
mental health, which is linked to academic achievement.
Thanks to funding from local sources such as Catawba Valley Medical Center,
Catawba County and area school systems, the school nurse ratio in Catawba
County has been inching closer to the AAP goal.
“We haven’t quite reached the one nurse to every school ratio
yet,” said Lindsay. “However, the nurse-to-student ratio here
in our county has improved dramatically over the past decade. We have
grown from five nurses in the mid-1990s to 23 today, thanks to the efforts
of Catawba Valley Medical Center, Catawba County Public Health, the state
and our schools to secure grants and other funds for additional nursing
Catawba County Public Health’s School Health Team seeks to ensure
that children in grades K-12 have access to preventive and acute health
care. To learn more about school nurses at your child’s school,
visit Catawba County Public Health’s
School Health Website.