A student’s health affects their ability to learn, and children without access to healthcare in school may face academic challenges. A school nurse supports a school’s mission to foster academic and social development through healthcare assessment, intervention and follow-up. Nurses support the physical, mental, emotional and social health of all students.
According to the National Survey of Children with Special Healthcare Needs, 11.2 million U.S. children are at risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions. Asthma, diabetes, obesity, ADD, autism and epilepsy are all on the rise. Poverty and hunger are increasingly prevalent, and they have adverse effects on student health. Mitigating the health, academic and social risks of all of these conditions depends on immediate care and advocacy. Beyond treatment, students need ongoing instruction in managing these conditions and making healthy decisions.
In addition to providing an immediate health safety net for chronically ill students, school nurses promote a healthy school environment. They provide regular health screenings and referrals for generally healthy students. They advocate for school safety and lead programs to reduce violence and bullying.
When accidents and injuries occur at schools, school nurses are often the first responders, and they are the frontline against illnesses. In fact, they are often the only people in the building who know what to do in the event of an outbreak. They also act as liaisons between schools, families, communities and healthcare providers.
Saving Time and Money
School nurses also improve the general health and productivity of the faculty and staff. According to the National Association of School Nurses, having a school nurse in the building saves principals, teachers and clerical staff considerable time.
- Principals save almost an hour a day.
- Teachers save almost 20 minutes a day.
- Clerical staff save over 45 minutes a day.
The cumulative economic value of all of these services — for which one school nurse is often the sole provider — is difficult to calculate. Certainly that value exceeds the expense of keeping a school nurse on staff.
The Healthy Schools Campaign recently evaluated the effects of school nurses. Four schools in the San Jose Unified School District in California added full-time nurses. The study then compared these schools to others with only part-time nurses. The schools with full-time nurses demonstrated substantial improvements to students’ health and academic performance.
The study determined that students with access to a full-time school nurse were less likely to visit the emergency room, which saved parents time and money. For example, students without access to a full-time nurse required twice as many emergency room visits for asthma attacks.
Further, 98 percent of the students nurses referred to an optometrist for suspected vision problems followed through with an appointment — compared to only 58 percent of students who received referrals in schools without a full-time school nurse.
Students without access to full-time school nurses missed nearly 16 percent more school days per year due to illness than students at schools with nurses on staff. In addition, schools with full-time nurses eliminated the achievement gap between students with chronic asthma and healthy students. 50 percent of students with asthma showed significant gains in math or English language arts scores in schools with full-time nurses.
With approximately 50.1 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., these schools are ideal environments for health awareness promotion.
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