(BPT) - While parents and students prep for back-to-school season, so too do the country's 74,000 school nurses, who are charged with helping maintain a healthy, thriving student body for the 2013-14 school year.
The nationwide average ratio of school nurse to students is one to 1,150, which is higher than the one-to-750 ratio recommended by the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and Healthy People. While there is a shortage of funded school nurse positions, many states are moving to improve their ratios; 38 states increased their school nurse-to-student ratio between 1999 and 2009.
'The health care industry is shifting toward a community-based approach to health,' says Dr. Bonnie Saucier, president of Chamberlain College of Nursing's Tinley Park, Ill. campus. 'Community health centers, clinics and schools all play an important role in keeping the population healthy. As the health care industry focuses on prevention, the school nurse plays an even more vital role in delivering health and wellness programs to students and their families.'
School nurses serve to remove barriers to learning by providing early intervention services - like scoliosis and eyesight checks - to the entire student body. They also manage individual student cases, which include moderating allergy triggers or allocating prescribed medication. It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of children have chronic health conditions. In many cases, the school nurse is the only health care professional students see on a regular basis; 9 percent of children do not have health insurance, which makes the role of the school nurse even more crucial.
Schools that employ a nurse report increased attendance as chronic illness is identified and managed; teaching staff can focus on teaching, rather than providing health care; and less strain falls on other health services because of reduced number of emergency calls, according to NASN.
'In order for a student to be successful in the classroom, he or she has to be physically and emotionally well,' says Jennifer Joseph, a school nurse in Oak Park, Ill., and graduate of Chamberlain College of Nursing's Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. 'As a parent and school nurse, knowing my kids have access to a baccalaureate-prepared nurse in their schools makes me feel more at ease when I send them to school each day.'
BSN degree programs, like Chamberlain's, enable students to earn their degrees in as few as three years of year-round study. Chamberlain's program introduces students to a variety of work settings - including schools - through diverse clinical experiences, and allows students to enter the workforce faster than peers in traditional four-year programs.
'Nurses who choose to serve in schools have the unique responsibility to care for students in the absence of their families,' says Dr. Saucier. 'The academic success and vitality of the community starts at the school, and the school nurse is at the center of it all.'