Are School Nurses Really Necessary?

June 13, 2012

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK

"Mom?" The little voice was shaky over the phone. "Can you come get me right now? I don't feel good." Unfortunately, I couldn't. As my son handed the phone back to the school nurse, I explained that I was in the middle of conducting an interview in the next county. "I'll get there as soon as I can," I promised, listening to the sad sniffles behind her. "It's okay," she reassured me. "I'll take care of him until you get here." It was an immense relief to know that he was in good hands. (At least until I got him home and discovered he was faking it because he didn't "feel like math today.") But I may have to go back to worrying as this little Leave it to Beaver moment may be a thing of the past, thanks to budget cuts in many school districts around the country.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that school nurses are being pink-slipped "from Philadelphia to San Diego, as public schools struggle to provide basic services while continuing to slash budgets." In some cases, nursing positions are being filled with cheaper paraprofessionals, but in many other cases the positions are gone all together leaving already over-burdened classroom teachers to fill in the gaps (and clean up the puke).

This is especially alarming now that so many of American kids require medication during the day thanks to increased cases of ADHD, autism, and even "adult" diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol. A school nurse's job isn't just hand holding and handing out lollipops; it often requires some serious medical knowledge like managing child doses of medications formulated for adults or recognizing anaphylactic shock due to a food allergy. Not to mention that they are often the only medical professional some children even have access to.

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The problem is that most of their work is done behind the scenes. For many parents, their only interaction with the school nurse is leaving a voice mail to excuse their child's absence. This lack of visibility hurts when it comes to budget cuts because when it comes down to eliminating a nurse's position or a teacher's position, voters only see class sizes increasing-although I'm certainly not suggesting that cutting teachers is a good idea, either. Health care crises are as ubiquitous as celebrity memoirs (and are about as easily understood too), and I'm afraid the school nurse may end up one more casualty in the war.

What's your opinion: Do we really need school nurses or should we be focusing on providing education? Have you or your child ever needed the school nurse? Got a good story to share?

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Permissions: Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

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