School Nurses Face New Challenges & Find New Opportunities in Promoting Student Wellness

January 04, 2010 | Written By:

Interviews By Cynthia San Miguel, HSC intern


Now that winter has set in, school nurses are as busy as
ever caring for students with colds or flu. But, year-round, school nursing is so much more
— nurses care for students with chronic illnesses such
as diabetes and asthma, as well as students with disabilities. They’re also
leading the way in making health-promoting changes throughout the school.

With today's expanded role, school nurses face new
challenges. Many challenges are related to the increase of children’s health needs
which include diabetes, asthma and mental health, says Edmonds School District
#15 school nurse Katie Johnson.  “More
children are being identified with mental health conditions. There are more
children who are able to be in school now because of more sophisticated health
care — students who were preemies, students who have received chemotherapy,
students who wouldn’t have survived their condition years ago are now in school
but need support to participate,” Johnson says. “The biggest challenge I deal
with is a disparity between the resources I have available and the needs of the

And students’ needs are great -– a lack of access to health
care may mean that “for a number of families and students the school nurse is
the only health care provider,” said Donna Mazyck, past president of the
National Association of School Nurses (NASN).

HSC’s developed its School Nurse Leadership Program to
address the changing reality and increasing workload that school nurses tackle
on a daily basis. The program uses curriculum written by nurses to prepare
school nurses to assume leadership roles to promote wellness or environmental
health in their schools. In three days, the school nurses learn about their leadership
style, evidence-based research, meeting conduct, media relations and advocacy.
School nurses create and deliver a presentation that is tailored to their
schools’ needs. And school nurses learn from each other.

Kathleen Barta, associate professor of nursing at University of Arkansas says that when school nurses
show leadership to promote wellness, they support health, safety, and policy
development.  “The key is the principal
and superintendent… the school nurse must develop those relationships. Data is
a powerful tool for school nurses to keep track of the number of children, what
the nurse is seeing and the pattern. All of these help the administrators see
what is happening.”

Nurses may also lead by spearheading a school or district
wellness committee, for example, or speaking up about the ways that a school’s
indoor air quality has an impact on student health.
For Johnson, even though her time is always stretched thin, she says she makes it a priority “to
contribute a Note from the Nurse on various health topics to the monthly
parent newsletter to teach parents about health, build awareness of
my role as a nurse and availability as a resource for health questions.” 

Mazyck says: “School nurses are in the unique position to
serve as liaisons with students, parents, school staff, community members,
health care professionals, state and local government to promote student health
and support student success… School nurses are the champion of healthy eating
and health education.”

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