Growing up, the school nurse was someone I took for granted: always there in her office dispensing pills, providing a quiet place to lie down, and then sending you back to class when your headache cleared up. She seemed like part of the woodwork, as much as the school secretary or the health teacher.
Now, the school nurse is an endangered species, and school secretaries are often being called on to do her job.
As schools have faced massive budget cuts, many have cut back the hours they have a nurse on campus, or done away with school nurses entirely. A quarter of schools now have no nurse at all. Only 45% have one full time. The results, Parenting magazine reports, can be disastrous for students.
They report on at least two cases where students died from preventable medical problems, things a nurse would have been trained to handle.
The less dramatic situations are also cause for concern. As the Parenting article states:
No school nurse can mean that kids who have or develop a serious health problem may not receive immediate diagnosis or treatment. Those who depend on daily medications may receive them from staff who have no medical training. Physical or emotional problems may go unnoticed. Healthy kids may miss out on lessons in hygiene and nutrition. Everyone loses.
Lack of access to school nurses especially affects kids who have inadequate access to health care outside of school. They may come to school with untreated health problems like ear infections. Add to that the constant stream of kids who fall down, bump their heads, break their bones or come down with fevers during the school day, and the nurse has her hands full. As does whoever stands in when the nurse isn’t there. When those jobs fall to people with no medical background, the risk of mistakes mounts.
Does your school have a nurse? Are you sure? Many schools don’t advertise the cuts in their nurses’ hours. To find out, call the school and ask. If there’s not a nurse on staff, find out why.