Schools Need School Nurses

April 16, 2007

Today we have a guest entry from Martha Dewey Bergren, HSC Board member and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Nursing.

Last month, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about 7-year-old Sophie Elder’s struggle to get support for her health-care needs in school (“Girl, Interrupted,” March 4). The story describes Sophie’s struggles as a child with diabetes — she needs blood tests throughout the day — and her family’s efforts to find support for Sophie when she is in school.

However, the story did not mention the obvious solution: a school nurse.

The health care needs of all children are important, whether they have diabetes, seizures, anaphylactic food allergies, asthma or the accidents and injuries that occur every day at school.

In the absence of a registered nurse with school-nurse certification, lay persons, secretaries or other school personnel are expected to administer medications, including injections, and perform other nursing procedures unsupervised and without the appropriate training.

Many school districts staff each building with a school nurse, but there’s no national standard specifying a nurse-to-student ratio. (The National Association of School Nurses recommends minimum ratios of nurses to students depending on the needs of the student populations.) And Illinois is not one of about a dozen states that have some guidelines regarding the number of school nurses in districts or schools.

Why doesn’t Illinois think the health of all children in school is important enough to have a school nurse in every building? It is important for parents to investigate who provides care in their child’s school. And it is time for Illinois to move forward with a nurse-to-student ratio that will protect the health of all children.