The concept of school nurses, for me as a Canadian living in a suburban area, is a bit foreign. However, even if you or your child has a school nurse present in their school, you may or may not be aware of all these health care providers do to keep kids healthy during the school day. If your child has a nurse present in their school, even a day or two a week, and your child has a chronic medical condition, your child’s school nurse may be an important person in their educational experience.
School nurses, in part, help to ensure children have access to care that promotes positive development and optimal school experiences unhindered by illness (chronic or acute), safety concerns, barriers affecting access to care, and collaborating within the school environment with students, families, and school staff, to assist students in reaching their potential by adaptation to circumstances, self-management of health needs, and optimizing learning environment and outcomes. [1. 2] Of course, children with special medical needs who have access to school nurses, will have better health outcomes and be able to participate more fully in school—both educationally and socially.
For kids with chronic illnesses, here are some roles a school nurse may fulfill:
- Providing medication and monitoring, including insulin injections or insulin pump challenges and blood glucose testing for kids with type 1 diabetes, storing medication, and responding to acute changes in the health of a child with chronic illness.
- Arranging care plans and emergency action plans for children with chronic health conditions
- Providing education to students in the school community and families as well as teachers on how to keep kids safe—including on communicable disease, chronic disease, disability, and more.
- Training adults in the school how to respond to medical emergencies (ie. anaphylaxis/epinephrine injection training, managing low blood sugars or seizures, or even sports injuries or unexpected medical crises). As well, school nurses can highlight for school staff to keep an eye out for medical ID jewelry to stay aware of the kids in their care.
- Providing a place for students to rest if they need as a part of their medical care plan
- Management of feeding tubes or other medical devices
- Adapting school activities to a child’s medical needs
- Community health support, such as arranging immunizations at school, eye checks, hearing checks, scoliosis screenings and more. As well, school nurses often have a significant role in dealing with community health “epidemics” such as cold and flu prevention (hygiene training), lice checks, and information on common conditions in childhood such as strep throat, chicken pox, impetigo, fifth disease, and so on. (This small list is just one that combines the examples we faced as a school-aged childcare centre and had to alert parents of when children in our care contracted these usually viral infections!)
- Providing students a place to ask questions about their health that is safe and non-judgemental
- Providing families another opportunity for care access
- Teaching families about resources that may help them access care.
In 2015, I was fortunate to meet a few school nurses in the Denver Public Schools system. These hardworking people (specifically Nurse Donna!) were some of the most passionate advocates of children’s health I have ever met! These professionals are extremely dedicated to promoting student wellbeing and being able to develop a relationship with the many children they care for. A school nurse in your community may work out of a variety of schools, and have the tough job of ensuring the health and safety of these children—and most of the time, they do it with a smile on their face, ready to tackle the next challenge that they meet, like all nurses do. School nurses face a diversity of issues including chronic illness, injury, acute illness, providing resources, collaborating with pediatricians and social workers to ensure children have the right care and resources to thrive in school. If you have a school nurse in your community, be sure to thank them this Fall as kids go back to school. And if you’re reading this later into the school year, remember, it’s always a good time to say thank you!
If you are a school nurse, our team thanks you for your hard work! If promoting medical ID in your schools is an issue you care about, let us know: we’d love to develop a partnership to keep the kids you care for safe and healthy!