Return to School Shines Spotlight on Oft-Forgotten Nurses


Nurses are synonymous with hospitals, public health clinics, and physicians’ offices. We expect to see nurses dressed in scrubs whenever we go in for medical tests. But there is one group of nurses that is often forgotten: school nurses. They are forgotten no more now that the nation is returning to school in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

School nurses are more important than ever before. That is not to say they were unimportant prior to coronavirus, but rather to say that their responsibilities are so much greater as they look after the health and well-being of students and staff alike.

Meeting Students at the Door

Today’s school nurses work with other staff members to meet students as they arrive for school. Students are temperature check and asked about symptoms. These daily meetings are commonplace in school districts across the country. But once classes start, the nurse’s job isn’t done. Indeed, it has just begun.

School nursing jobs exist to provide adequate medical care in the event a student falls ill or is injured on campus. So nurses return to their offices following coronavirus screening only to be greeted by the rest of their daily work.

Students enter the nurse’s office throughout the day to receive their prescription medications. Others come in complaining of headaches, stomach aches, and a variety of other problems. It is the school nurse’s job to comfort and diagnose simultaneously. When necessary, it is her job to contact parents and request a sick child be picked up.

Communicating About Coronavirus

Communicating with parents is a normal part of the school nurse’s job, especially when kids are sick. However, coronavirus has taken that aspect of the nurse’s job to the next level.

In many school districts, nurses began communicating with parents long before the doors were opened. They sent out letters informing parents of the school’s safety procedures and protocols. They spoke to nervous parents over the phone and answered online inquires via social media.

School nurses were often present at school board meetings in the weeks leading up to reopening. They were there to answer questions and alleviate the concerns of parents fearful about sending their children back. Nurses even spent time discussing things with staff members, reassuring them that everything was under control.

A Long History of Care

It is unfortunate that school nurses are often forgotten by the general public. Forgetting about them is understandable given the many pressures we face day-to-day, but it is still unfortunate that they do not get the recognition they are due. For more than 100 years, skilled nurses have been on the front lines of school safety.

According to the New York Times, school nursing in this country started way back in 1902 in the Big Apple. It was nurse Lina Rogers who took the plunge, going to work on New York’s lower East side. She became the very first public health nurse and the first school nurse in the country. She was responsible for providing services to four separate schools serving 10,000 students.

A big part of her job was to educate parents about common diseases and infections. Along with Rogers, New York’s schools had 24 additional nurses serving 100 schools by spring of the following year. Other cities learned from New York’s example and began hiring their own nurses.

In New York City today, there are some 10,000 students who take prescription medication daily. Nurses handle that for the most part. But they also handle everything from stomachaches to runny noses. And now, they are also heading up coronavirus screening. What more could we possibly ask of them?

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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    Lisa Klein

    School nurses are horribly underpaid for the job they are responsible for. This job is not appealing to many nurses because of the terrible pay. If they had a union they would be better compensated and therefore able to attract more competent nurses. We have to fight for our school nurses just like teachers.

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