In Praise of the School Nurse

By Kasey H. Jordan, Ph.D., with Adam Jordan and Todd Hawley

Photo via Bethney Bonilla/Peninsula Press)

Photo via Bethney Bonilla/Peninsula Press)


We won’t lie: Writing this column is fun for us.

Each month, we hear from many of you. Every time we do, we are rejuvenated to know there is a community of folks from all different professions and walks of life who care about education. Public education requires a complex ecology of stakeholders, working together to educate the whole child. Over the next few months, we plan to take the time necessary to explore a few of the various aspects of that ecology.

While we are both Southerners by birth and self-identification, we now live in separate states, Georgia and Ohio, and don’t get to see each other in person as much as we would like. Just last month, though, we were together to celebrate the retirement of our good friend and colleague, Dr. Geoff Mills, as he retired from Southern Oregon University. When we were together, discussing our lives and this column, a couple of things became clear.

First, this column is uniting people who care about public education, and we couldn’t be more excited about that. That was the idea we had from the beginning, and it is nice to see it becoming a reality.

Second, we talked at length at how we both married “up.” We “outkicked our coverage,” if you will. We are both thankful to be married to smart, powerful women.

While talking about our good fortune, we got what we hope was a brilliant idea. Since public education requires a robust ecology of professionals, and we happen to be married to pretty great professionals who are part of that ecology, why don’t we hush on occasion and let them speak on the issues we regularly rant about?

So, this month, we are welcoming guest author Dr. Kasey H. Jordan. Kasey has a doctorate in nursing from Vanderbilt University and a master’s in nursing from Duke University. Clearly, Adam married way up. Kasey has worked in numerous settings, including emergency departments, public health institutions, and perhaps most significant to this column, schools. We are a firm believer in the reality that meeting the needs of today’s public schools is going to have to involve collaborating with other professionals. The work of every school should place teachers, students, and families at the foundation — and then branch out in interdisciplinary ways to include those who care about how we “do school” in the 21st century. Given today’s political landscape and focus on both education and health policies, we thought there would be no better professional partner to engage than someone who has a stake in both efforts.

With that, we hope you enjoy Kasey’s strong case for an empowered school nurse. School nurses, here’s to y’all.

Why the School Nurse Matters

Have you ever had the chance to sit and talk to a school nurse?

If you haven’t, you might be surprised at how they spend their time. School nurses take on a lot more these days than scrapes and stomach bugs. School nurses serve as the primary link between our complex, disjointed health-care system and our schools. We all know health doesn’t just happen in doctors’ offices and hospitals, and nurses have been leading the charge to improve student health, and in turn academic success, for more than 100 years.

What are school nurses doing all day? The stories are as varied and complex as the children and families they serve. School nurses help children facing end-of-life issues continue to learn and enjoy time with their peers for as long as possible. School nurses guide adolescents with their own children through the road of prenatal care and the challenging early-childhood years. School nurses support youth overwhelmed by test anxiety in this age of standardized testing. And that might all be in one afternoon.

Every day, school nurses bridge the gap between the healthcare system and real life for young people throughout the South and across the country. Imagine a child newly diagnosed with diabetes. The initial feelings of loss, uncertainty, and fear can be overwhelming for both the student and their parents. How will she check her blood sugar at school? Can she still play sports? What if her blood sugar drops too low while she’s at school? The primary-care provider can provide education and support, but that doctor’s office can feel light years away from the classroom. This is where the magic of school nursing happens. The nurse, with appropriate permission, can communicate with the provider’s office and provide education about the condition and risk. Nurses can facilitate communication between families and teachers, helping both find student-centered strategies that align learning and thriving. The nurse can train faculty and staff to respond quickly and appropriately in emergencies, reducing some of the angst and risk associated with chronic health conditions. The student, empowered over time with health knowledge and control, can return her attention to grades, relationships, and plans with her friends.

Now, if you ask almost any school nurse what keeps them up at night, you would probably hear this resounding reply: ratios. For every student who receives the support and expertise the school nurse has to offer, many more have no access to such care. All students need direct access to a school nurse, and staffing decisions need to be made based on student need and community risk factors. However, our school nurses are regularly responsible for thousands of students at a time, making it impossible to respond adequately to all student needs. Nowhere is this more important than in schools serving large populations of impoverished kids who are vulnerable to health and academic challenges. These students and families are often most in need of someone to help navigate the murky waters of health promotion, illness prevention, and academic success. If we are serious about improving health and academic readiness for our youth, especially those most vulnerable, we need to invest in qualified school nurses.

So, if you haven’t had the chance to chat with a school nurse, I hope you will find the opportunity to do so. Ask them what they see and what they do. Guiding our children toward a healthy future is going to take more than affordable insurance and quality health-care organizations, it’s going to require healthier places to live, learn, and play. You might be surprised at just how much school nurses are making that happen. And, with the right support, you might be surprised at how much more they could do.

If you want to tell us about a great school-nurse experience, please click here.