Why are certified school nurses needed?  

Published June 2012 Voice

This article was written by certified school nurses in the Woodland Hills School District to share a snapshot of their jobs and those of their colleagues in other school districts.

There is never a dull moment in a school health office.

The role of the certified school nurse has expanded beyond Band-Aids and ice packs because the needs of our student population have changed dramatically. Recent advances in medical diagnosing, and the inclusion of medically fragile students in the classroom are just some things that have made the job of the certified school nurse more challenging than ever.

The National Association of School Nurses reports that between 2002 and 2008, there was a 60 percent increase in students in special education due to chronic or acute health problems; the prevalence of food allergies among children under the age of 18 increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007; more than 10 million children in the United States have asthma; and 4 to 6 percent of students take medication in school.

During an Elementary Student Assistance Program meeting in Woodland Hills, two very active little boys in kindergarten were referred for an evaluation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The next day, the school nurse completed the vision screenings on the kindergarten class and discovered that these same two boys had failed. 

Neither family had vision insurance and could not afford professional exams. After researching resources, the school nurse found Mission Vision, a wonderful organization that was able to provide the boys with a free exam and glasses. Within two weeks, the boys were sporting their new glasses and one of the boys exclaimed, “My new glasses are helping me to behave and sit in my seat!”

On another day, a 14-year-old female student came into the health office complaining of shortness of breath.  She did not appear in distress, and did not have any history of respiratory problems. Her vital signs were stable, but the school nurse could not hear breathing sounds on the right side. The nurse placed a pulse oximeter – a device that measures the percentage of oxygen in the blood – on her finger and it read 93 percent. Normal is 98 to 100 percent. 

Through early medical intervention, a chest x-ray at the hospital revealed pneumonia in the right lung.  The student was placed on antibiotics and because the illness was caught early, she returned to school in two days.

In addition to caring for the immediate and emergency health needs of students, there are also mandated state health services that nurses must accomplish, such as health screenings every year on all students that include vision, height, weight, and Body Mass Index calculations. Certain grades levels also must get hearing and scoliosis screenings as well. School Nurses must also ensure compliance with required immunizations, dental exams, and physicals.

Then there are these responsibilities of nurses to support the health and academic success of students:
• Utilizing advanced health education degrees to inform students, and their families regarding disease prevention and health promotion
• Collaborating as the medical consultant on various educational teams, such as the Student Assistance Program, Individualized Education Program, and the Building Emergency Response Team
• Developing and implementing health and wellness programs for faculty and staff
• Initiating public health protocols to minimize the spread of communicable diseases
• Grant writing that awards the district funding to implement healthy lifestyle programs
• Promoting our profession through mentoring student nurses from the University of Pittsburgh, and Chatham University during their community health rotation


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