While a school nurse's job entails treating playground scrapes and checking for fevers, she is also called upon to dispense many medications, help with sex education programs, and may be called upon to serve multiple schools. The role of school nursing can be demanding, but it's one with many intrinsic rewards.
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In 1902 the first school nurses were placed in four New York City schools facing high absenteeism. The aim was to improve the health of students. When absenteeism dropped significantly, more New York schools began hiring on-site nurses. Soon other large cities sought to duplicate that success. Since then, school nurses have played an important role working with families and healthcare professionals to keep students healthy and to ensure they receive proper care. In 1972 National School Nurses Day was established to recognize the importance of school nurses in the education community.
While school nurses tend to cuts, scrapes and other school accidents, offer a little TLC to children feeling under the weather, and oversee school health screenings, their responsibilities have grown significantly in the past few decades. They dispense a wide range of medications, help with sex and human development education, consult with law enforcement when child abuse is suspected, and work with schools and students in circumstances ranging from teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections to counseling and checking for head lice (a long-standing and especially unglamorous part of the job). Then there is also the age-old challenge of determining whether a student's stomachache is real or imaginary, sparked by an upcoming test.
The National Association of School Nurses shows that more than 5 percent of students from kindergarten through 12th grade receive medications from the school nurse. Those drugs range from ibuprofen and short-term prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, to daily doses of allergy or attention disorder medications. In a school of 1,000 students, that would equal 50 students each day stopping by the clinic for medication from a school nurse.
The requirements to be a school nurse vary between school districts. While many districts require registered nurses (RN), many licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses and nurses with bachelor's of science degrees work in schools. And with reduced budgets and shortages of available nurses, some schools are staffed with "clinic aides," who may have little formal training. However, because of the constant need for school nurses, anyone with the credentials and the interest can probably pick any part of the country to live and work in and find a school-based nursing job.
Nurses with a particular interest or experience with certain kinds of children may find opportunities in specialized schools. Schools that work with children who have special needs require nurses with similar training. Schools for teen parents, with on-site child care, need pediatric nurses. Nurses with a social work background are in demand at economically challenged school districts, while nurses who speak more than one language can often find work in communities with many bilingual families.
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