School nurses play vital roles in the education system. They monitor the health and wellness of both students and staff, and they have proven time and time again to be critical resources in their communities. Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, they have also proven to be instrumental in the reopening of schools throughout the United States. Each day, countless school nurses don their white scrub jackets and head to work where they face the challenging job of maintaining the health of the entire school community while still providing quality care to students with healthcare needs that must be tended to during the school day.
While school nurses sometimes do not receive the same praise as those working in hospitals, they are, by all means, critical frontline workers who are doing the vital work of keeping the youngest members of our community safe and healthy. Keep reading to learn more about why school nurses are critical for preventing the spread in schools and keeping communities safe.
They Ensure Schools Have the Appropriate Supplies and Tools for Keeping Students and Staff Safe
School nurses work with administrators to ensure schools are well-stocked with the supplies and tools necessary for safe daily operations during a pandemic. This includes obvious supplies, such as gloves, masks, face shields, antimicrobial laundry detergent and hand sanitizer, as well as medical supplies for screening staff members and students for COVID-19 symptoms and providing on-site care.
Additionally, nurses are working with administrators to ensure there are isolation rooms or other areas where students or staff members exhibiting symptoms can be kept away from others until they can leave the school. They may also need to obtain things like privacy screens or other tools for keeping people apart in the nurse’s office.
They Establish Safe, Healthy School Environments
Even during “normal” times, school nurses collaborate with school administrators, teachers and other staff members to ensure safe and healthy environments in schools. This job function is even more crucial now, though, as kids return to school for the first time since the novel coronavirus forced the closure of schools throughout the nation in Spring 2020.
Now, nurses are working with K-12 leaders to create procedures and policies that encourage social distancing, limit the sharing of materials and establish healthy habits among both students and staff. They’re also working to implement hand-washing protocols, COVID-19 screening procedures and policies for caring for, isolating and dismissing staff and students who exhibit potential symptoms. And all of that is on top of handling their normal duties, like following appropriate medication administration practices of school nurses, determining when to dismiss students early due to illness, etc.
They Are Responsible for Managing On-Site Care for Students and Staff
While school nurses obviously play a huge role in assessing and treating students and staff members who exhibit the common symptoms of COVID-19, they must also be familiar with managing other aspects of on-site care. They need to plan for and be able to administer acute respiratory treatment based on current standards of care.
Nurses working in schools are also tasked with assessing and tending to students’ emotional needs. They coordinate with counselors and social workers to ensure help is available for students who are struggling with anxiety or other types of emotional distress. They also provide reliable and accurate information to help assuage students’ fears and manage their emotions during this challenging time.
As students return to school, nurses must identify unmet healthcare needs among students. With schools being closed for an extended period, many students have likely missed important appointments, run out of medications, etc. It is the nurse’s job to uncover what needs have not been met due to school closures and coordinate with parents and healthcare providers to help get students back on track.
They Coordinate with the Local Community
One of the most important things to know before becoming a school nurse is that your job doesn’t just take place within the walls of educational institutions. If you think school nurses only work within schools, think again. They also play a vital role as a link between the schools and the communities in which they are located. Linking the education and public health sectors, they provide up-to-date information to community members and families about the latest public health developments. They engage in numerous activities to ensure health protocols are understood and followed both in and out of school.
School nurses also work with public health officials and local organizations to provide resources for families who have contracted the virus or lost their jobs due to the pandemic. They help make sure families know where to turn if they need help with healthcare, food or other basic needs.
Because of the many stigmas surrounding COVID-19, school nurses must coordinate with school and community leaders to develop campaigns to distribute accurate, unbiased information. This is done to reduce stigma and to prevent bullying and violence in schools and throughout the community.
School nurses play a vital role in the educational system and in the communities in which they work. This is true during typical times, but it is especially true in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. These dedicated professionals spend their days working on the frontlines to ensure students remain safe and healthy while attending school. They also work to ensure the health and safety of teachers, administrators and other staff members.
Without school nurses, the reopening of schools this fall would have likely been impossible. Thanks to their tireless efforts, our children have been able to resume some semblance of normalcy in their lives. They are critical in preventing the spread in schools, too, and are playing an instrumental role in ensuring schools can remain open throughout the 2020-2021 school year.