School nurses are key to children’s health and success at school. They provide care to individual students and help shape school-wide policy.
For many kids, school nurses are important lifelines to well-being and academic success. But all too often, school nurses go unrecognized. It’s time we change that.
This year, the School Nurse Leadership Award presented by Healthy Schools Campaign honors the unsung heroes who show leadership and help schools create a culture of wellness.
If a student has an asthma attack, gets in an accident on the playground or experiences a sugar spike, it’s the school nurse who will get the child back to class or to a doctor. When a student sprains something, swallows something or has any other acute health issue, the person who matters most at the moment is the school nurse.
On a deeper level, when families have medical issues that are affecting their children’s school performance, it’s the school nurse who can connect that family to the right community resources. School nurses play a key role in children’s health.
At the same time, school nurses bring a public health point of view to the school. They work with teachers and school leaders to make changes that affect all students’ health. For example, school nurses work to promote healthy food and fitness programs in schools and to promote handwashing and better hygiene to prevent the spread of disease.
School nurses are integral to healthy school environments.
School nurses address the health conditions that can prevent students from attending school or fully focusing in class. The connection between school nursing and students’ learning is especially important in communities where students are at risk for health disparities that can detract from learning. School nurses play a vital role in:
Caring for individual students
Health concerns can get in the way of learning and achievement. Students with asthma, for example, are forced to leave class when they have trouble breathing. With a school nurse on hand, the students can receive immediate care and go back to class. Otherwise, students may miss school to go to the emergency room. Over time, this adds up to a serious disadvantage.
Creating school-wide conditions for health
While attending to a child with asthma, for example, the school nurse may notice that more students have breathing problems after certain cleaning procedures. The nurse can then work with the school’s facility team to adopt a healthier green cleaning program or conduct training on asthma management for students and families.
Providing care in the community
Our nation’s health policy increasingly focuses on prevention and community care. That means, promoting health and offering medical services not only inside the hospitals or doctors’ offices, but also in the settings where we spend our days. It means catching health issues early, not just when a problem has developed. School nurses can play a central role in bringing community care to students at school.
Hear directly from several dynamic nurses who participated in HSC’s leadership training.
In 2004, several dynamic school nurse leaders gathered at HSC’s office to talk about leveraging school nurses’ unique perspective in the movement for healthy schools.
That was the start of HSC’s School Nurse Advisory Committee.
This group went on to develop HSC’s successful School Nurse
Leadership Training program, which has prepared more than 280 nurses in Illinois, Colorado, New York and Kentucky to make changes for school health, locally and nationally.
This one-on-one work has helped build HSC’s community of nurse advocates across the nation and a solid foundation for advocacy.
HSC envisions a system in which every school has a full-time school nurse to support students’ health and help shape school-wide policy. So, why don’t all schools have one?
The answer varies, but one significant reason is funding. In nearly all districts, school nursing is primarily funded with education dollars. This means student health essentially competes with core education expenses, such as textbooks or staff salaries.
For districts facing shrinking budgets and increasing academic demands, school nursing is often not a funding priority.
HSC envisions a different approach, one where school nursing is funded more significantly through health budgets, including Medicaid. To learn more about HSC’s policy recommendations for school health services, visit our policy page.
In May 2012, HSC presented these recommendations to Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan at a public event as part of our Health in Mind initiative. Learn more about the recommendations and this initiative here.