The first time I took cupcakes in to my son’s class to celebrate his birthday, I was surprised when the school’s main office secretary asked me to stop in the nurse’s office first.
The nurse pulled out a list of my son’s classmates and immediately caught one who had an allergy to an ingredient in my store-bought treats. She gave me a safe treat for that child to eat and I was on my way.
Before that, I hadn’t even thought that there might be some children in my son’s class who would not be able to enjoy the desserts. I was sure glad the nurse was prepared since I was not.
With May 10, National School Nurse Day, upon us, I took some time to contemplate the many phone calls and emails I have made and sent to my sons’ school nurse during the past few years.
I am thankful for the many times the nurse has kept a watchful eye on my boys and updated me on their progress throughout the day, whether it was monitoring them for a belly ache or sore throat, helping to manage new medications or coordinating care with their pediatrician.
“A nurse’s day is very, very busy,” said Rosanne Ozog, a school nurse in the Poland Central School District in Herkimer County. “People think all we do is put Band-Aids on (students) all day.”
School nurses deal with a variety of issues throughout the school day, all with the end goal of helping students succeed in the classroom.
“A student’s health is directly related to his or her ability to learn. Children with unmet health needs have a difficult time engaging in the educational process,” according to a 2016 National Association of School Nurses position statement. “The school nurse supports student success by providing health care through assessment, intervention and follow-up for all children within the school setting.”
In addition to taking care of students’ health-related needs that arise during the school day, school nurses can serve as a resource for families when there is a concern about a particular student that originated outside of school hours.
Mrs. Ozog said she receives phone calls from parents asking her to check on a child who may not have felt well over the weekend or that morning before school. The school nurse can evaluate the child and recommend whether the child should be seen by a doctor, said Ozog, who is a registered nurse.
“If they’re ill or injured, we want to take care of them and get them back in the classroom,” Mrs. Ozog said.
Other students may have medical conditions requiring that a school nurse can assist with, such as dispensing medications or feeding tube or catheter maintenance.
“The school nurse is that person who bridges that gap between the doctors and the kids that we want to lead normal lives,” said Lisa LeBlanc, a school nurse with the Cohoes City School District in Albany County.
The nurse’s office also serves as a resource to outside community resources for families that may need support services or help, such as food stamps or mental health services.
“Students who are medically fragile or who deal with chronic health issues are coming to school in increasing numbers and with increasingly complex medical problems that require complicated treatments commonly provided by the school nurse,” according to the National Association of School Nurses position statement. “Chronic conditions such as asthma, anaphylaxis, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, obesity, and mental health concerns may affect the student’s ability to be in school and ready to learn.”
In addition to directly serving students, school nurses also are responsible for numerous other tasks such as inputting information into a database regarding student physicals, giving and uploading vision, hearing and scoliosis assessments and making sure students have the proper immunizations.
“Kids are coming to school with a lot of issues that they are struggling with,” said Mrs. LeBlanc, who is a registered nurse. “It definitely affects their learning.”
Communication amongst the school nurse and teaching staff and administrators is important to keep everyone on the same page. Communication between home and the school nurse is also critical.
“Parents are encouraged at any time to call with any concerns they may have for their children,” Mrs. Ozog said.
When to call
When should a parent or guardian call their child’s school nurse? Anytime there is an issue that could potentially affect a child’s ability to learn. Here are some of the common reasons to check in with the school nurse’s office.
- New medications
- Food allergies
- Accidents or injuries
- New health diagnoses
- Recent hospitalizations
- Changes in home situation
Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her second- and fourth-grade sons, who are both well-acquainted with their school nurse.