School Nurses Spread Thin


Posted to Nursing Jobs, Nursing News, Nursing Specialties, School Nurses

Somehow I’ve made it to adulthood without ever breaking a bone, but I was either a very clumsy or a very active kid (perhaps both?) and throughout my elementary school years I was forever heading to the school nurse to have a cut attended to or a bruise soothed. In my memory, she was always there when needed.

I don’t know if she actually was on duty all of the time or if it just seemed that way, but school nurses these days usually have to serve several schools at once, even as the medical needs of their patients only become more complex and time-consuming.

The Whidbey News of Washington spoke to Robbin White, a school nurse, and Rick Shulte, the Superintendent of the district she works in, about the unique challenges that school nurses face now.

“The students’ needs for nurses has risen to more than it used to be,” Schulte said, citing the growing number of students with life-threatening allergies, diabetes and more. “The wide variety of things they do and decisions they have to make makes it a very important job.”

In 1987, the nurse mainly administered hearing, vision and scoliosis screenings but today, “The range of service nurses provide is very broad,” Schulte said.

Alongside medical duties, nurses also speak in health classes when called upon and would assist if there was ever a pandemic of illnesses like swine flu or pertussis in the school district, Schulte added.

“I would love to have another nurse. That would really help our work load,” White said. “We also could use health room assistants.”

The district has one assistant, at Hillcrest Elementary School, who helps with diabetic students.

White’s first school nursing job after graduating from nursing school at the University of Washington was for Shoreline School District, where she worked in one elementary school. She moved to the Oak Harbor School District in 2004 and started with five schools.

“I miss that I don’t get to know the kids as well because I’m moving from building to building,” White said.

Before becoming a school nurse, White worked in pediatrics at Swedish Hospital. After working hours that kept her from seeing her family and after dealing with the deaths of many children at the hospital, White appreciates the hours and students at her current job.

“I chose to be a school nurse because I love children and working with families,” White said.

“The nice thing is, everyone’s supportive,” White said of those she works with. “But it comes down to no money.”

It seems that Washington is not the only place that is having these issues. School nurses serve an essential function, and it’s a shame that they are spread so thin.