School Nurses: Invisible Shields

Last week I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion with four Wisconsin School Nurses (SN).  The SNs discussed how their roles have changed since the onset of the pandemic.  They shared stories of longer hours, increased responsibilities, and new expectations, such as contact tracing.  SNs are undoubtedly experiencing greater amounts of stress this school year but surprisingly they did not talk much about stress.  The SNs spoke of concern regarding the health of staff and students, satisfaction in supporting student learning and gratitude for the increased recognition of the role of the SN. 

SNs have been silently promoting the health of the youth of our country since 1902 when Lina Rogers was hired to provide care to students who had high rates of absenteeism due to communicable disease.  Fast forward to 2020 and SNs are still implementing strategies, including contact tracing, case management, and disease prevention interventions.  This year, SNs have been working tirelessly to support student learning.  Some SNs are working to keep kids present for in-person instruction, others are creating innovative ways to engage with students who are learning virtually, but all SNs are working to keep kids safe and decrease the spread of COVID-19 to minimize the stress on our healthcare systems. 

During last week’s panel discussion, one of the SNs described the SN as “a shield working hard to decrease disease spread and try to lessen their [hospitals’] numbers [of patients sick with COVID-19] from the outside.”  I was moved by this description of a shield; it offers such as terrific visual representation on what SNs are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  But SNs have always been a shield, but most of the time the shield is invisible.  

SNs have been working behind the scenes for over a century ensuring that all students can meet their highest academic potential.  Unfortunately, many have the perception that the SN sits in the health room taking care of the sick or injured child or giving the child with diabetes their insulin each day at lunch.  Most SNs wish their school district had the resources to hire enough SNs so they could provide direct care to all students in need, so there could be a full-time SN in every school building.  But in most schools, the SN is responsible for building the infrastructure of support staff who, in turn, are responsible for performing these tasks.  SNs spend hours educating and training the school community to ensure they are competent, comfortable, and ready to address health concerns and emergencies that will inevitably arise.  The SN ensures the health aide understands how to care for the injured or ill student who comes to the health room or how to test a diabetic student’s blood sugar and administer their insulin.  The SN guarantees there are enough school staff trained to perform CPR or use an AED if a student or more likely a school staff member or visitor experiences a cardiac emergency.  The SN creates emergency action and emergency evacuation plans for students with special healthcare needs.  The SN develops plans of care for students with chronic health conditions to ensure that they have the necessary support to achieve their academic goals

The actions described here represent a minor fraction of the invisible work that a SN does every day, every year to protect every student.  If you have the opportunity to speak to the SN in your community, thank them for playing a vital role in keeping children healthy and safe, not only this school year but every year!