The working life of a school nurse has always been hectic – treating schoolyard injuries, doing health screenings, helping address mental health issues and so much more. And then Covid arrived, making the “old days” seem quaint.
School nurses’ response to the pandemic has underscored what we already know: they are health care superstars. In these last 12 months of disruption and crisis, school nurses have heroically taken on even more responsibility, served as public health advisors for school boards and administrators, and kept students and communities safe through the pandemic.
Here are some lessons we learned about the role of the school nurse in 2021.
Nurses are critical in safe reopening
As districts across the country continue reopening with varying phases, plans, and protocols, nurses are critical to their doing so safely. As the frontline of student safety, they’re on point for best practices for reopening policies, temperature testing, screening, mask distribution, health and safety guidelines, ongoing monitoring, and more.
They are a pillar of public health
Nurses are the health experts that school communities look to for guidance. They answer questions from parents, staff, and students. Nurses have always been health educators, but especially now, that role is so important in disseminating local health policies and guidelines, training staff on COVID-19 infection control, helping staff do self-care, and educating the wider community. Many are involved in wider public health initiatives or organizations.
Their jobs are complex
While COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts are at the top of their list, nurses still must attend to all the other illnesses, injuries and student concerns that they always have. School nurses are a lifeline for students with chronic conditions, often procuring their equipment and medications, drafting student health plans, and helping them manage their conditions. They also reach out to at-risk students and help with deliveries (such as medication and food) to those in need. They often serve hundreds of students, all with different and changing needs.
Nurses’ expertise is unmatched
More than any other role in the education system, nurses are the health and wellness linchpin. Their training and skills go beyond everyday health care. They must have great listening and communication skills, be life-long learners, be empathetic and caring, think quickly, and have great judgment and problem-solving skills. They’re consummate team players, using interpersonal skills, professionalism, and attention to detail. And increasingly so, they must be knowledgeable about new public health threats and developments – connecting the dots between local and national trends.
They’re important to a student’s overall success
Good health is foundational to a student’s ability to thrive. When they’re healthy, they’re better able to excel in their studies, develop their interests, pursue their dreams and build relationships. Nurses support student’s success by providing care and support – to students’ physical, emotional, mental health as well as social health needs. They provide assessment, intervention, and follow-up for all students.
They can deliver care anywhere
School nurses have always provided care and support in person, but now they’re doing it remotely – or using a combo of the two. They have had to “go virtual” basically overnight and work to ensure kids didn’t face a gap in care. They’ve had to figure out fixes for students who need ongoing care but maybe don’t have digital access. They have to make the call on what care can be done remotely and what requires in-person attention. Having the right tools and the continued support of their districts and administrators remains important as ever.
Going forward, these important lessons will inform how the school nurse’s role evolves. Being at the frontlines of how COVID-19 has affected communities, schools, and students, the voice of the nurse will be critical in shaping health care and public health for decades to come. Thank you, school nurses, for all that you do to keep your schools and communities healthy and safe!
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