By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director
Boston, Mass.: Home of the Boston Red Sox, site of Paul Revere’s ride, and location of the 2009 National Association of School Nurses Annual Conference.
I went to the conference to give a presentation - along with Donna Fishman, HSC's Director of Training, and Linda Gibbons of National-Louis University - on both our School Nurse Leadership Training Program and our advocacy efforts with school nurses. It was a great conference and we can’t wait to see it come to Chicago in 2010.
Spending so much time with school nurses led to many interesting conversations. One thing I realized is what a struggle school nurses face in trying to break free of the stereotypes and outdated images people have of their profession. I think many of us have memories of a school nurse from when we were kids: the nice lady who gave us aspirin and Band-Aids. This image does not tell the full story anymore.
Today’s school nurse is a highly trained nursing specialist - many states have extra training requirements for nurses to practice in schools - and the nurses at the NASN conference are committed to professional education and further learning.
In the school settings, school nurses see everything – pregnancies, stabbings, seizures, chemical burns - and they provide a wide range of special health services. These are women (it's true, I didn’t see a single man at the conference other than a few presenters) who have a tough yet highly rewarding job. So please don’t tell them that all they do is dispense Aspirin.
It also became clear to me at the conference that schools are becoming an unfunded safety net for our health care system. I heard many stories about how common it is becoming for parents and students to forgo health services from doctors or hospitals in favor of going to a school nurse.
Parents who can’t afford the cost of care (or even can’t afford their co-pays) are having their kids wait until they go to school to see a health professional: the school nurse. Or families who can’t easily get to a hospital wait to take the school bus the next day to see the school nurse.
This problem is one of economics and access.
Maybe we need to fund more school-based health clinics in low-income areas to assure access to health care for students. Or maybe we should fund school nurses through public health or insurance dollars so school nurses can adequately serve the true needs of our communities without having to compete with money for the classroom (as is often the case now). Remember, a healthy student is going to be more successful in the classroom. We shouldn’t be putting health and education funding at odds.
When we talk about school nursing and the funding
that supports it, we need to be realistic about what today's school
nurses do and what needs they meet.
The health needs of today's student population are entirely different than when we were growing up, and school nurses are adapting to that need. Perhaps the ways we fund and staff these services need to change too.