School nurses key to student health care

May 6 was National School Nurse Day. School health services have been described as a “hidden system” of health care by Julia Graham Lear, founder of the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

School nurses reside at the core of this enterprise. They play diverse roles and collaborate with other health professionals to serve the needs of all students. An increasing number of schools also offer expanded health services through school-based health centers staffed by nurse practitioners.

Today’s school population is more medically acute and diverse than ever before, posing daunting challenges for today’s school nurses.

Schools are required by federal law to provide a safe learning environment for students with a broad spectrum of disabilities.

Unlike nurses in clinical settings, school nurses typically practice independently. They are called upon to assess student health, develop and execute plans for care management, act as first responders, engage in public health functions such as disease surveillance and immunization compliance, and screen for vision and hearing.

This school safety net for children’s health is alive and well in Durango School District 9-R. The 9-R system consists of 2.5 district RNs, a licensed practical nurse or health aid in every school and two school-based health centers that serve all 9-R students. Although funds are limited and the nurse/student ratio exceeds national recommendations, close teamwork and good communication have created a very effective system of care for all students in the district.

National Nurses Week, May 6-12, ended on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of nursing. National School Nurse Day was established in 1972 to foster a better understanding of the role of school nurses in the educational setting.

Sherrod Beall, director, Coordinated School Health Services, Durango School District 9-R