Everything You Need to Know About Being a School Nurse
Your work as a nurse has always felt more like a calling than a job. You can’t imagine doing anything else with your career! But long days caring for patients in a hectic work environment have taken their toll on you. You don’t want to give up being an RN, but you’re ready for a change of pace.
Becoming a school nurse could be the change of course in your career you’ve been looking for! Children are some of your favorite patients, and maybe you even have school-age kids of your own, making school nursing a natural fit for you.
What exactly do school nurses do, and how can you make the career transition? We spoke with Lynn Landseadel, who was a school nurse for more than two decades and is a current nursing instructor at Rasmussen College, for insights into the life of a school nurse.
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What does a school nurse do?
School nurses are the primary medical resource for children and adults during the school day. You probably have some memories of a school nurse from your own childhood days. Maybe you rested in the nurse’s office when you got a bad headache, or were sent there in search of bandages after skinning your knee at recess. Though school nurses are responsible for caring for kids in situations like these, their job duties don’t end there.
The main focus of a school nurse is making sure every student has what they need to learn well, which often includes managing health concerns. Much of a school nurse’s job comes down to what is essentially case management, according to Landseadel. “School nurses create, distribute and coordinate care plans for children and teens who need additional physical and/or mental health support to be successful in school.”
School nurses are also responsible for job duties that help the entire school population stay healthy. They administer screenings for vision, hearing, BMI and scoliosis, and they run flu shot clinics. School nurses also train others, such as showing staff how to perform CPR, first aid and emergency medication administration.
Last but not least, school nurses also encounter administrative duties that help ensure student safety. This includes performing state-mandated immunization reviews and “collaborating with social workers and guidance counselors to set up home schooling for students too ill to attend school or those who are hospitalized,” Landseadel says.
What conditions can a school nurse expect to treat?
In the midst of all those job duties, school nurses do still treat patients who fall ill during the school day. As you might imagine, they may encounter childhood illnesses more often than nurses who work in other settings. Chicken pox, head lice and asthma attacks are all part of a day’s work for a school nurse.
But just like other types of nursing, school nurses aren’t exempt from the occasional unusual case. “What haven’t we seen?” Landseadel says. She’s seen illnesses as serious as diabetic coma and severe injuries resulting from woodshop tools at a technical center.
In this varied nursing setting, only one thing is a guarantee: “Every day is different from the one before.”
What is the work environment like as a school nurse?
It’s no surprise that schools are the work environment for these nurses, but keep in mind that there are many different types of schools to choose from. School nurses working in preschools or elementary schools may have very different job duties from those working in a high school or college setting. For example, nurses who work with older students will have more responsibilities related to sexual health education.
Nurses at any school should expect to spend plenty of time interacting with students, both one-on-one with patients and in larger groups as they provide screening or education. They also collaborate with other adults in the school system, as well as parents, to ensure that students remain healthy.
School nurses also enjoy more predictable work hours than their hospital counterparts, who may be called upon to work 12-hour shifts and odd hours like overnights, weekends or holidays. A school nurse’s work hours will roughly follow the school’s schedule. That typically means a routine Monday through Friday workweek, with time off over summers and other school breaks.
What skills and qualities do school nurses need?
Much like any nursing position, school nurses must have compassion and caring toward the patients they serve. For school nurses, that most often means kids! “You have to love kids of all ages, and enjoy working with families,” Landseadel says.
Beyond loving kids and having standard clinical skills, school nurses will benefit from having excellent communication, teaching and presentation skills. This comes in handy when they train school staff and educate families or groups of students. Strong organization skills will also help school nurses manage their caseload and keep track of administrative paperwork requirements.
How do you become a school nurse?
School nursing requirements vary by state, but typically schools want to see nurses with several years of clinical experience under their belt, along with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Gaining this additional education may sound daunting, but keep in mind there are flexible online RN to BSN programs that can put you on a path to graduate in as little as 12 to 18 months.1
Just like other RNs, school nurses must also pass the NCLEX exam. Certain states also require special certifications or specialty courses in school nursing, so be sure to check for additional requirements for your area.
Caring for kids
As an RN, you already have valuable experience that’s necessary to being a school nurse. If earning your BSN is the only thing holding you back from pursuing this nursing specialty, you’ll want to research your educational options. Our article “8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen College RN to BSN Online Program” is an excellent starting point.
1Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.