After ten years of working in big city emergency departments and ICUs, I traded night shifts and fast-paced intensity for a new challenge: school nursing. Because my children were in elementary school and night shifts no longer worked for our family, I figured handing out Band-Aids and ice packs would be a welcome change from the chaos of a busy trauma unit.
Boy, was I wrong.
Diminished health care access and higher copays, an economy that has forced more parents back into the work force and a rise of chronic pediatric diseases means that school nurses are busier than ever. In fact, in my years as a school nurse, there were days when my colleagues and I could see up to 90 children come through the Health Room.
And we weren’t just handing out Band-Aids.
Medication calculation, health care plan implementation and regular meetings with parents, administrators and students with complicated medical issues are the norm. And our district is lucky: We have certified school nurses in all of our buildings. Many school districts across the country are functioning with much less.
But, as any school nurse will tell you, even though we are stretched thin and we are often on our feet for eight hours at a time, there are things we wish parents more fully understood. Things that would make our job of caring for your children during the school day much easier.
1. Medical forms are crucial. Fill them out.
In an emergency, access to a parent’s updated cell phone and work numbers are vital because seconds count. Yes, we know that filling out a new form every fall is a pain in the neck, especially if you have multiple children in the school, but please just do it and don’t complain. You’ll thank us when we aren’t wasting critical minutes tracking you down when your kid suddenly needs an ambulance.
2. Lice is not a big deal. Yes, really.
The mere mention of lice — also known as pediculosis — can send parents screaming for the hills. But, parents, if your kid is found to have lice nits, take a deep breath.
Most schools don’t exclude kids for lice and you are not going to have to burn your house down. Nits can’t jump from head to head, nits can’t survive without a human and it affects people of all socioeconomic classes. So, please stop calling the office because you heard little Suzy from six classrooms down has lice. Your kid is fine, I promise.
3. If we call to say your kid is too sick for school, we mean it.
I am a parent, too, and I know how much I hate seeing the health room number pop up on my phone. A call from the nurse means your day is likely going to be upended, and we know it so please don’t give us a hard time.
School nurses get to know your kids as well as their teachers do and we can tell when your kid is exhibiting symptoms that will affect their performance in class. And it’s our job to keep the entire school building healthy, so if your kid has a fever or is vomiting, I won’t apologise for expecting you to do your part.
4. We take donations of gently used clothing and new underwear.
In the elementary school setting, accidents happen. Often. From kindergarteners who can’t find their way to the bathroom to third graders who slide into first base and rip their jeans, school nurses are often scrambling to find clothing that will fit a variety of sizes.
Sure, parents can bring a spare pair of pants but when a small child has wet underwear, it’s a comfort to be able to hand them a brand new pair from the health room.
5. A “thank you” goes a long way.
School nurses are the forgotten heroes of the school, and I’ve often said that unless there’s an emergency, you don’t even know a school nurse is in the building. But she (or he) is and they are working hard every day to make sure your kid is safe, healthy and able to function at their best in the classroom.
So, pop into the health room to say thank you or, even better, on School Nurses Day (that’s May 8 this year), send a card or a flower. Your school nurse will be thrilled to be remembered in a small way for the very large part they play in your child’s school health care.