School Nurse Shortages

by Angela Stevens on March 1, 2010

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My son attends a relatively small school. As I am by nature a chatty person, I have gotten to know most of the teachers and staff through open house nights and other school functions. One of the people I talk to on a fairly regular basis is the school nurse. She is a very kind older lady, Grace, who has been a nurse almost as long as I have been alive. School Nurse

She has worked all over the country, depending on where her husband was transferred in the military. Nursing, especially school nursing, is a true passion of hers. She is a member of several nursing associations and groups, and she was recently telling me about the school nurse shortage. I thought it odd that there would be such a shortage, considering it seems like an ideal job for a nurse. However, she said there are shortages in the nursing field in general, and many of the younger nurses want a high impact, more exciting career – which is not usually part of the job description when one becomes a school nurse.

There are numerous reasons why the role of school nurse needs to be filled. Often, especially in poorer communities, a school nurse is the only healthcare provider a child may see all year. Additionally, many students throughout the country have specific medical requirements that must be handled by a qualified professional. These can include dispensing medications, monitoring medical conditions, and assisting students with special needs. With nearly 25% of schools in the United States lacking any type of school nurse, many of these children are not having their needs met. They are also affecting other students whose teachers are trying to fulfill the role of the school nurse instead of being able to focus on education.

Of course, lack of interest is only part of the problem. Some states, or individual school districts, do not require a school nurse in every school. However, as communities have become more aware of the need for a school nurse in all schools, it has still been difficult for schools to fill these positions. Small districts, and even larger districts in poor neighborhoods, often find a lack of local interest in the position. This has led to an increase in the request for travel nurses to fill in at these schools. Sometimes, per diem nurses are used during periods when physicals or other assessments are needed. In fact, our school employed several per diem nurses recently to do the physicals at our school so they could all be completed quickly instead of over the course of a week. After our temporary nurse assisted at my son’s school, she went on to assist at other schools in the district until all of the testing had been completed.

Grace is hopeful that the variety of positions available for travel nurses will help reduce the difficulties associated with the school nurse shortage. After seeing this system in action, I am also hopeful. What do you think about temporary or per diem nurses in your child’s school?

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