By Tara Gibson - October 1, 2020
As some K-12 school districts welcome students back into classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, many worry about the spread of the virus and the health of kids, teachers, and school staff. School nurses have their work cut out for them as this 2020-2021 academic year they’ll be on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s safe to say school nurses do not just hand out band-aids and call parents or guardians in to pick up their children for a stomach bug. Nurse.org explains that the evolution of school nurse responsibilities has grown to caring for students with chronic illnesses, disabilities and mental health conditions, on top of the run-of-the-mill scrapes and bruises. The role of the school nurse is more critical than ever, with a quarter of all young children suffering from some kind of chronic illness, like asthma and diabetes, according to USA Today.
From helping students struggling with suicidal ideations to treating concussions, school nurses also act as a liaison and advocator for students by administering health screens and organizing programs within the community to address bullying and substance abuse as well as promote mental and physical health, among others.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, school nurses will have to overcome several obstacles and embrace even more responsibility, such as screening for COVID-19, contact tracing, and isolating students who may have the virus. Although they’re trained to do so, there’s a terrible school nurse shortage which is creating a difficult scenario for school districts across the country.
The CDC recommends schools have one nurse for every 750 students, but the National Association of School Nurses shares that about 40% of schools only budget for a part-time school nurse, and 25% have no nurse in schools at all. Many school districts only have one nurse that they share with multiple schools, according to The Conversation.
"The intensity of needs of students is a change," says Donna Mazyck, executive director of NASN and a former school nurse. "There's an inverse relationship between the growing need and the funding."
With how important school nurse responsibilities are, these statistics are shocking and unfortunate. The pandemic has intensified the need for school nurses, especially when it comes to student mental health and COVID-19 response.
Amid a global pandemic, the need for school nurses has been exacerbated, especially with a severe uptick in mental health concerns among teens and children. School nurses have an important role in mental health awareness, and provide empathy, compassion and develop positive relationships with students struggling with mental illness.
By collaborating with administrators, teachers, healthcare professionals, and families, school nurses are paramount in identifying students at risk for mental illness. Unfortunately, the isolation of the pandemic has had a severe impact on kids, with doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth saying they’ve admitted juvenile suicide patients at a rate of almost one per day in August 2020.
“We see kids every day, telling us they’re struggling. They wish they can go back to their normal lives,” said Dr. Kia Carter, medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s.
With an already clear shortage of school nurses, K-12 districts must be aware of student mental health and keep all staff in the know when looking for signs and concerning behaviors from students. One helpful tool that some schools have implemented to help with the school nurse shortage is anonymous text-to-tip solutions, which encourage students to anonymously submit any concerns they may have regarding their peers.
School nurses will have their work cut out for them, especially those in districts with a school nurse shortage. Everybody in education has played an important role in bringing students back into classrooms – safely – and that certainly includes school nurses.
See the below infographic from the National Association of School Nurses sharing critical activities they’ve done to support student health during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Not only are school nurses educating staff on COVID-19 infection control measures, disseminating updates from local health departments, and being a point of contact for parents, guardians, and the community, but they’re also outreaching to at-risk students, managing medication and equipment returns to families, working on individual student healthcare plans, and more!
To help, schools should assist in school community outreach with the use of a mass notification or school notification platform. Users can create targeted templates and contact lists for specific messaging – for example, administrators can assist school nurses by sending out crucial information and resources to families of students with asthma.
Keeping clear lines of communication open between schools and their community can be a help with bringing back students safely, and can take some of the mounting pressure off of school nurses in the United States.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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