May 7, 2019

School Nurse Shortage Named a ‘National Crisis’

School Nurse Shortage Named a ‘National Crisis’

By Portia Wofford

The nationwide shortage of nurses has not excluded school nurses. Only three out of five schools employ a full-time nurse. Many schools resort to using school staff and faculty — who have no medical training — to provide care to students. According to the National Association of School Nurses, about 40% of schools only budget for a part-time nurse and 25% have no nurse at all. 

School Nurse Responsibilities

The role of school nurses has evolved. School nurses are responsible for the care of students with chronic illnesses, disabilities, and mental health conditions. Gone are the days of only treating scrapes and bruises. Today's school nurse manages everything from diabetes and concussions to suicidal ideations and gender transitions. As with all nurses, school nurses help students and their families manage diseases. Administering medications and treatments — including providing tube feedings, catheterization, and tracheostomy care — are some of the daily tasks of school nurses. 

School nurses serve as liaisons between the public and school-aged children. Serving as an advocate for students, the nurse may be responsible for providing health screens. These screens are helpful determining if certain factors may be impacting a student’s learning. School nurses may also develop education and prevention programs. The nurse works with school and community officials to launch and organize programs.

  • Anti-bullying
  • Physical and mental health promotion
  • Sex education
  • Substance abuse

Additionally, the nurse can recognize when a student needs a referral to a specialized physician or healthcare provider. 

The school nursing shortage ultimately hurts children

As diseases like measles begin to rise, children are in dire need of school nurses. A quarter of all young children suffer from some type of chronic illness like diabetes or asthma. As allergies amongst children are peaking, having trained medical professionals in schools is no longer an option — it is a necessity. School nurses are trained to administer medications like epinephrine and the correct dosage of insulin. Having these trained, licensed professionals on board prevents the burden from falling on students or unlicensed school personnel.

Many school districts are failing to meet the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that there be at least one registered nurse in every school. School nurses are often stretched too thin. Many nurses have to provide services for more than one school. As part of their “School Matters” series, CBS This Morning interviewed school nurse Denie Gorbey-Creese. Gorbey-Creese covers two schools a day. She told CBS This Morning that she is often stressed trying to figure out the safest way to balance her day. Although she has health assistants at each school, she is often called with questions when she is not in the building. Gorbey-Creese went on to share that if she is busy with an emergency at one school, she is not available right away at the other and this could delay care. According to CBS This Morning multiple children have died after medical emergencies while in school in the past several years when no nurse was on duty.

Solutions to the School Nurse Shortage

Although many school districts have school-based health clinics run by local hospitals, it is a costly solution. Parents would have to pay out-of-of-pocket or run the visit through their insurance. Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, calls the school nurse shortage a crisis. She blames budget cuts for the shortage that burdens the nurses and puts students at risk.

There are no federal laws mandating school staffing. A bill is set for introduction in Washington. The Nurse Act would provide grants for schools to hire nurses based on Title 1 designation. 

Portia Wofford is a nurse, millennial strategist, healthcare writer, entrepreneur, and micro-influencer. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for career development--while providing organizations with tools to close generational gaps within their nursing staff. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.


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