If you own a computer or a TV, you've heard about recent school nurse shortages. We've heard about them, too, and it's worrisome. School should be a safe place - a place where students can test their chops in the spring musical, or harness their inner math whiz. It shouldn't be a place for worrying about administering your own insulin, and that's why it's imperative for schools to be able to manage serious student health needs, with or without a full-time school nurse.
Let's start by recognizing the facts. The facts state that the school nurse to student ratio for many schools is too high. The facts also state that the number of students with at least one chronic disease is increasing, which means each student requires more care.
This is why student health care at school matters. It matters because more and more students need to monitor their diabetes, asthma, or ADHD at the one place they spend nearly half of their adolescent lives. Students are in need of care, but at schools without a school nurse, or with a part-time nursing staff, it means that non-medical staff may need to step up and help students manage their chronic diseases, including Type-1 Diabetes.
Understanding how Type-1 Diabetes affects students
According to the American Diabetes Association, Type-1 Diabetes is a condition where the body does not create insulin, a substance we all need in order to convert delicious food to energy. Think of insulin as the helping hand that turns a crisp, juicy apple into energy for hanging on the monkey bars at recess. But for those students with diabetes, their body can't transform an apple into energy, so they need a little extra help.
The "extra help" I'm referring to is added insulin. Students with diabetes must to monitor their blood glucose levels, and then administer insulin to themselves - as in, physically inject insulin, or monitor an insulin pump - based on their blood glucose levels.
Even as an adult, the idea of administering insulin to myself is a scary idea. I can't begin to imagine how young students manage it, especially without a nurse to help them on a day-to-day basis. That's why California's ruling to allow school personnel to be trained to assist with administering insulin to students is a sigh of relief for some. It sets a standard of care for students, and it shows that schools are willing to step up and do the best with a less-than-ideal situation.
But there's still work to be done.
Creating a safer environment
When we're talking about student care, innovation is key. School nurse duties and responsibilities are constantly changing, and so is the average role of a school staff member. School staff may need to help supplement the care of school nurses, because a school nurse's workload is often overwhelming - or because there may be no school nurse at all. This active, supplemental care from school staff members creates a safer environment for students managing a chronic disease.
Additionally, schools can create a safe environment for diabetic students by opening up the lines of communication. By keeping diabetes care plans on file, and regularly communicating with parents, a school can ensure they are doing their best to provide accommodations for diabetic students.
Information, and communication, are key.
Training school staff
If your state laws permit it, the American Diabetes Association recommends training non-medical school staff to assist with insulin administration to ensure students are healthy enough to participate in everything from the school play to math competitions. However, just as it takes a team to communicate about diabetic student safety at school, it also takes a team to safely care for students.
The ADA recommends training any school staff member who has a responsibility for a diabetic student. The key is to have a health professional - possibly the part-time nurse - conduct this training. With several staff members properly trained to administer insulin, students and parents can feel at ease knowing that schools are equipped to care for diabetic students.
This is not a fool-proof plan, however. Each school should still strive to achieve the recommended school nurse to student ratio. Until each school achieves the recommended ratio, these guidelines can help schools manage serious student health needs, even without a full-time school nurse.
Does your school have a full-time school nurse? Find out about our efforts to locally fund school nursing positions!