This is Not Your Father’s School Nurse

July 09, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Boston, Mass.: Home of the Boston Red Sox, site of Paul
Revere’s ride, and location of the 2009 National Association of School Nurses Annual Conference.

I went to the conference to give a presentation – along with Donna
Fishman, HSC's Director of Training, and Linda Gibbons of National-Louis University – on
both our School Nurse Leadership Training Program and our advocacy efforts with
school nurses. It was a great conference and we can’t wait to see it come to
Chicago in 2010.

Spending so much time with school
nurses led to many interesting conversations. One thing I realized is
what a struggle school nurses face in trying to break free of the
stereotypes and outdated images people have
of their profession. I think many of us have memories of a school nurse
from when
we were kids: the nice lady who gave us aspirin and Band-Aids. This
image does not tell the full story anymore.

Today’s school nurse is a highly trained nursing
specialist – many states have extra training  requirements for nurses
to practice in schools – and the nurses at the NASN conference are
committed to professional education and further learning.

In the school settings, school nurses see everything – pregnancies,
stabbings, seizures, chemical burns – and they provide a wide range of special health
services. These are women (it's true, I didn’t see a single man at the conference
other than a few presenters) who have a tough yet highly rewarding job. So please
don’t tell them that all they do is dispense Aspirin.

It also became clear to me at the conference that schools are becoming
an unfunded safety net for our health care system. I heard many stories about
how common it is becoming for parents and students to forgo health services
from doctors or hospitals in favor of going to a school nurse.

Parents who
can’t afford the cost of care (or even can’t afford their co-pays) are having
their kids wait until they go to school to see a health professional: the
school nurse. Or families who can’t easily get to a hospital wait to take the
school bus the next day to see the school nurse.

This problem is one of economics and access.

Maybe we need to
fund more school-based health clinics in low-income areas to assure access to
health care for students. Or maybe we should fund school nurses
through public health or insurance dollars so school nurses can adequately
serve the true needs of our communities without having to compete with money
for the classroom (as is often the case now). Remember, a healthy student is going to be more successful
in the classroom. We shouldn’t be putting health and education funding at odds.

When we talk about school nursing and the funding
that supports it, we need to be realistic about what today's school
nurses do and what needs they meet.

The health needs of today's student population are entirely
different than when we were growing up, and school nurses are adapting to that
need. Perhaps the ways we fund and staff these services need to change too.