In honor of National Nurses Day and the start of National Nurses Week, we want to applaud all of the critical health work that school nurses and student health departments perform each day.
School nurses are an essential but often overlooked part of the healthcare continuum for a child. As Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss writes:
“School nurses matter enormously, though you couldn’t tell by the amount of attention they get from policy-makers…For many students, the school nurse is the only health professional they ever see. Nurses do far more than bandaging scraped knees and twisted wrists; they deal with far more severe medical problems as well as social and emotional problems that children bring to school but often aren’t comfortable talking about with teachers and even counselors” (Emphasis added).
In her article, Strauss shares quotes from school nurses around the country to illustrate some of the health challenges that they treat on a daily basis. Here are some of the highlights:
We are seeing more young kids with mental health issues. They come to us in droves because it’s easier to somaticize your stress through headache and stomach ache. It is easier to go to a nurse if you are sexually questioning. We are the less stigmatized place to visit.
There’s something wrong when at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, you have a line 10 [students] deep. ‘Now, how did you get nauseated, dizzy from the time you were dropped off to the time the first bell rings?’ I’ll ask. A lot of it is anxiety.
Sometimes a kid will have a concussion and I won’t want them to play in a game. But the coaches and parents tell me to put the student in the game. It’s a struggle.
Lack of medical visibility
We have these great forms but there can be a child who is seeing a neurologist for seizures or a child seeing an orthopedist for something or a psychiatrist for something and the forms comes back with nothing on [it]. Nothing about the condition. Nothing about the medication. Nothing. If a child presents with the problem at school, we are operating blind.
Strauss’s correspondents also cited the following as issues that school nurses treat:
“…asthma; childhood obesity and diabetes; students with allergies, both food and environmental; drugs, both prescription and recreational; disaster preparedness; crisis management; school health documentation for local governments; head lice; immunizations; mental health; oral health; visual health; school wellness policies; violence and bullying…sex education, nutrition, substance abuse prevention and much more.”
School nurses using CareDox have logged a whopping 239 unique reasons for students visiting their offices, many of which involve treating chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and ADHD, as well as health concerns that students may not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else, such as menstruation, anorexia and suicidal thoughts.
Despite their role often being overlooked, nurses play a crucial role in the health and wellbeing of students across the country. If your school has a nurse on staff, send a thank you note! School nurses keep students healthy so they can learn.