Research Shows Full-time School Nurses Improve Student Health and Learning

March 31, 2014 | Written By:

Study shows full-time school nurses improve student health and learning

What happens when you put a full-time school nurse in a school that hasn’t had one before? What impact does the school nurse have on student health? On attendance? On academic achievement?

In late 2006, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford approached San Jose Unified School District in California with these same questions. They proposed partnering in a demonstration project to evaluate what really happens to children’s health and academic outcomes when there is a full-time school nurse at the school.

San Jose Unified already had a team of nurses who were each responsible for two to three sites within the district’s 40 schools, but the project grant—$2.65 million over five years—provided funds for two elementary schools and two middle schools in low-income communities to each have a full-time school nurse. The project also formally linked the full-time school nurses to a nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner was hired specifically for this project and stationed at a school health clinic close to the four schools and operated by School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County, which serves as a medical home to children.

The project, which concluded last year, demonstrated what many teachers, principals, parents and school nurses know intuitively: a full-time school nurse can improve students’ health and academic performance.

Today, we’re excited to share some of this project’s most significant findings:

A full-time school nurse improves student health.

  • Students with access to a full-time school nurse are less likely to visit the emergency room. Parents whose children attend schools without a full-time school nurse reported twice as many emergency department visits for asthma as did those in schools with a full-time school nurse. (The numbers: 26.68 emergency department visits versus 15.15 emergency department visits per 1,000 students).

  • Students are more likely to visit an appropriate health care provider if they have a medical referral from the school nurse. By year four of the study, in schools with a full-time school nurse, 98 percent of students who were referred by a school nurse for a suspected vision deficit were evaluated by a vision specialist, compared to only 58 percent of students who received referrals in schools without a full-time school nurse.

A full-time school nurse improves student achievement.

  • Students are less likely to miss school due to illness when they have a full-time school nurse in their school. On average, students in schools with a full-time school nurse missed 3.03 days of school per year due to illness, while students in schools without a full-time school nurse missed 3.51 days per year due to illness. The reduction in absenteeism due to illness in the four demonstration schools was equal to a total savings of $48,518.62 in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding during the first two years of the project.

  • A full-time school nurse can help reduce the achievement gap that students with chronic health conditions face. By year three of the study, the academic achievement gap was eliminated between students with asthma and students reporting no chronic health conditions. Fifty percent of asthmatic students in the schools with full-time school nurses had significant gains in either their math or English-language arts scores.

You can read more about the exciting findings from this project in therecent article that was published in the Journal of School Health or here on Stanford School of Medicine’s website. You can read more about the project in San Jose on our blog. We also recommend checking out this video about the project.

Melinda Landau, manager of health and family support programs for San Jose Unified School District, has played a key role in this project from the start and we commend Melinda and her team for their successful work.

Just last month, Melinda presented at the launch of the National Collaborative on Education and Health to share the results of this project and highlighted the key role school nurses can play in meeting our country’s health and education goals.

We look forward to working with the collaborative to identify strategies for ensuring that more students across the country can realize the full benefits of having a full-time school nurse in their school.

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