For those nurses seeking employment outside of the hospital, working in a school environment can be immensely rewarding. School nurses can combine their knowledge of pediatric patients with health education activities and the opportunity to advocate for and make a difference in the lives of a vulnerable population—children and teens. Often, school nurses enjoy a fixed, daytime work shift, leaving weekends and evenings free for family or other obligations. (Although there may be some travel involved, as some districts require nurses to split time between several schools on a rotating basis).
A BSN is typically the minimum education requirement for school nurses. When you think about how much autonomy school nurses have, it makes sense that school districts would require a bit more education, as well as leadership and critical thinking skills. School nurses may be called on to help manage chronic diseases (like asthma or diabetes) during a student’s school hours, or to dispense medication as needed. Some school districts now require Epi-Pens to be available in case of life-threatening allergy. And there is an ongoing discussion about making naloxone available to high school staff and administrators, to reverse opioid overdose. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) has issued a position statement that says:
The registered professional school nurse provides leadership in all phases of emergency preparedness and response. When emergencies happen, including drug-related emergencies, managing incidents at school is vital to positive outcomes. The school nurse is an essential part of the school team responsible for developing emergency response procedures. School nurses in this role should facilitate access to naloxone for the management of OPR-related overdose in the school setting.
As you can see, the job of the school nurse is multi-faceted. In some schools, nurses may be called upon to provide health or nutritional counseling to students and parents and make referrals to health services agencies within the community. They may be needed to address the social determinants of health or the causes of chronic student absenteeism. School nurses can ensure immunizations are up to date, administer first aid, and screen for vision or hearing problems that might impede learning. They may also connect students to substance-abuse counseling or reproductive health services. Sometimes their impact is dramatic, as illustrated by an account of how school nurse Mary Pappas recognized an early outbreak of influenza type H1N1 and alerted the CDC – putting the nation on notice to prepare for a pandemic.
Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) creates a legal obligation for schools to provide nursing services to students who need them to participate in school. This might include children with disabilities or those who rely on medical devices like a gastronomy tube or urinary catheter.
Unfortunately, only half the nation’s schools have a full-time nurse on the premises, according to a recent policy brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The brief highlights various policy and funding strategies that might create more positions for school nurses, and improve nurse-to-student ratios. It cites a growing body of research that demonstrates the continuous presence of a school nurse can “advance the twin goals of improving health and educational outcomes.”
The field of school nursing is specialized enough that it has its own professional certification, the designation of NCSN (national certified school nurse). Desirable skills and qualities include:
- The ability to work independently in a structured environment
- Knowledge of pediatrics, first aid, public health policies, and mental health nursing
- Strong interpersonal and communication skills, particularly when working with children
- Cultural awareness and the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds
- The ability to identify health and safety concerns within the school environment
- Compassion and empathy
Are you interested in moving into school nursing? Your current nursing license is the starting point for a rewarding career in this specialty—and a degree from American Sentinel is the golden ticket that will get you there. We invite you to empower yourself with knowledge through an online RN to BSN or RN to BSN/MSN degree.