Role of a High School Nurse
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Many high schools hire nurses to provide for students’ health care needs. The primary role of high school nurses is to help schools reach educational and social goals. You need to complete a master’s, bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing and pass a state examination to get a license before you can work as a school nurse. Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, also are found in school health care settings and work under the supervision of RN who may cover an entire school system. Range of pay varies according to your degree. In 2010, for example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs earned a median pay of $64,690, whereas LPNs earned $40,380.
Since high school nurses are meant to further the educational goals of the school, their main orientation is to treat sick or injured students efficiently so that they can return to their normal school activities as quickly as possible. In many cases, school nurses provide all the care that students need on the spot, for example, using first aid kits to treat minor injuries and basic over-the-counter medications such as antacids to help students with upset stomachs. Nurses perform an on-the-spot assessment of students and determine what treatment is necessary, following the direction of the school's insurance policies when children require additional care. The school nurse often conducts screening for hearing, vision, blood pressure, weight and scoliosis and is responsible for notifying parents of abnormalities they may find. They also attend to staff as necessary.
Accommodating Special Needs
Certain students have special needs that must be attended to for them to function on a day-to-day basis. For example, a student might need regular administration of a particular medication or may have specific instructions for care in case of a seizure. In these cases, the nurse becomes responsible for meeting that student's needs during school hours. This requires that the nurse have a detailed, working understanding of the student's condition and needs. Medical information for such students should be kept on file at the school, along with plans for emergency treatment and contact information. In cases of special needs students, nurses should be in contact with the students’ regular doctors, parents and teachers regarding expectations and specific responsibilities for their care and safety.
High school nurses also need to communicate with a variety of parties to make sure that all students receive whatever treatment they need. First, nurses must have open communication with the students. Some health issues go beyond the nurse's scope of authority, understanding or resources, however, and for these cases, nurses need to have an open line of communication with other health care professionals. For example, nurses often need to talk with the primary physicians of students with special needs or the nursing staff at a nearby hospital in case of emergencies, social workers for addiction and abuse problems and mental health professionals to assist with depression or other emotional issues. Nurses communicate with physical education teachers to support health and physical education curriculums.
Creating a Healthy Environment
Overall, high school nurses are responsible for creating a healthy school environment to the best of their ability. This generally means providing relevant information to students, staff and parents. For example, a nurse can make the faculty and student body aware of a list of symptoms to watch for during flu season. The nurse can also encourage healthy habits such as good hygiene and a balanced diet. This can be provided through pamphlets available in the nurse's office or notices posted around the school. It’s the nurse's duty to observe the health practices of the school and to call attention to any dangers or health code violations.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses: How to Become a Registered Nurse
- Montclair Public School Health and Wellness Partnership: What Does a School Nurse Do?
- CNN Health: Are School Nurses Disappearing?
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Pediatrics: Role of the School Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical Nurses
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."