Not everyone is the parent of school aged children and yet, all of us were the children of parents when we were in school. Whether its three year olds in all day pre-school or college teens far from home, students need their registered nurses.
Why is it, then, that so few people truly understand what it is that we do for children? We want them to know that we keep children as safe as possible, that we isolate them when they are contagious and comfort them when they are perplexed. We are proud of our assessment skills and the continuing education units we’ve collected, that enhance our skills. When an administrator gets a call from an agitated parent, we often can get to the real issue quickly and allay fears easily. We separate real threats from perceived ones, alert authorities to potential problems and educate staff to be prepared. We are part of the education team while also walking the tightrope of liability, ethics and professional conduct. We are licensed, and we take it all very seriously.
Except for the times when we laugh, and tease, and cajole someone from the brink of despair. Except for the occasions we are creative and personal and silly. Add in the days we spend screening hundreds for vision or hearing problems, spinal deformity and pediculosis by telling children stories that put them at ease.
We are responsible for helping the public understand the role we have in their children’s academic success. We are the ones who can tell of student successes and share failed opportunities that resulted in loss of education days, sadness or worsening illness. Today we are no longer the lone healthcare worker in schools. We share that with physical, occupational and speech therapists. We collaborate with professionals for the blind and deaf. We work together with school psychologists. We coordinate plans with athletic trainers. We orient, support and lead school medical officers to fulfill their duties. We sit on committees with special educators and family advocates.
Many RN’s are humble, doing their work tirelessly, quietly and without adequate compensation or acknowledgement. While this is an admired character trait, it allows the public to dismiss the value of a nurse in their child’s school. When the school nurse job is eliminated due to budget cuts, everyone suffers. But until a crisis occurs, many will be unaware of what they have lost.
Consider an annual report of the work you do during your days on duty. Keeping track of the numbers of students you help, the types of nursing you provide and the students who have been able to return to class instead of head home demonstrates your value to their academic success. It is possible to report what you have done without revealing who you have done it for. These are empowering statistics.
Another way to earn respect and recognition comes from direct contact with other school staff. Often, the school nurse is not automatically included in staff assignments and committee work. I have found that volunteering for some of these activities builds strong partnerships. I have offered to help chair fundraising activities, gotten on a committee to deliver food to needy families and even attended a conference on improving high school graduation rates with a math teacher. Each helped me expand my own understanding of the education system and led to me being a better team member. I’ve served on union committees, which led to a better awareness of how they represented me and a better understanding on their part of what I needed from them.
Attending the Parent-Teacher Organization gave me an opportunity to talk about the community outbreak of Hepatitis A and teaching staff development classes on the Heimlich Maneuver to cafeteria aides earned me a ‘gold star’.
Most school nurses come from a healthcare setting. It takes time, patience and stick-to-it-iveness to become a respected member of the educational team. Often the nurse first feels isolated and unsure. Membership in local, state and/or national organizations is also helpful in bridging the gap that first occurs. It builds strong professional relationships and presents opportunities for lifelong friendships as well. School nursing is practiced differently when you look outside your district, county or state. Some of these differences inspire opportunities for change within your own practice and some are a result of the Nurse Practice Acts that vary significantly from your own.
As the Clinical Editor of School Nurse News I always welcome comments and ideas from practicing school nurses, parents of school children and educators or administrators working in school systems. I believe each and every school nurse is doing a good job in their role, but I assume we all want to improve. Ideas that inspire us to consolidate activities, work smarter and more quickly and expand our knowledge base are almost always welcomed. I’d be pleased to hear from you.
About the author
Deb Ilardi, RN, has been the Clinical Editor of School Nurse News for over a decade. She has forty years of experience as a registered nurse in a wide variety of settings, most recently twenty years as a school nurse in central NY. Deb continues to lecture and write about the area of practice she is passionate about. Contact Deb at SNNEditor@schoolnursenews.org.