Keeping Our Country's Schools Healthy and Happy
Today, school nurses are responsible for caring for students who get sick or injured during school hours, as well as educating students about healthcare and growth development.
We recently spoke with Nina Fekaris, MS, BSN, RN, NCSN, president of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), to learn more about the role of the school nurse in modern society.
I first started working in a hospital after nursing school, but after the birth of my first daughter I stayed home for several years. When I decided to go back to work, I noticed a job opening as a nurse for a school district, and I thought it would be a great fit because I would be on the same vacation schedule as my daughter. Although I began my career because it worked with my family's schedule, I have stayed 30 years because I became passionate about my role in my schools. I was the only healthcare provider in my schools, and I needed to be the advocate for my students with chronic and acute health conditions. It was very empowering to me to know that with my interventions, students could fully maximize their school experiences.
Today, still make sure students are healthy and able to attend school, and we do a lot more. One of the things that has changed is the dramatic increase in the number of students with chronic diseases, like asthma, anaphylaxis, and diabetes, which can potentially impact their school day. School nurses also work in the areas of public and community health, health promotion, care coordination, leadership, and data collection for quality improvement.
I'm responsible for approximately 3,000 students (one elementary and one high school). I write individual health plans for students with medical conditions that could impact them at school, and I train teachers and school staff using that plan so they are aware of symptoms they might see and actions they should take certain situations.
Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms, are most common. Other issues include asthma, anaphylaxis, diabetes, and concussions.
I love being there for the kids. This year, a senior in the health career program asked to interview me. She has epilepsy, and I have written her health plan since she was diagnosed in 2nd grade. She told me, “I had no idea you were behind me all those years.” We often work behind the scenes, but it’s about the kids and doing what I need to do to help them succeed.
I would like all school nurses to write a letter to the families at their schools, introducing themselves as the healthcare provider and sharing what the school nurse does for their child.
School nurses must be able to work independently with confidence. We deal with many "gray areas," so we must be able to use judgement and have confidence in our decisions. I would also suggest they take communication classes. Much of what we do is sharing information, so the more skilled you are at communicating, the better.
Being elected as president of NASN is my greatest achievement to date. It is an honor to be able to provide leadership and direction for the 17,000 members of our organization and to work on policies that hopefully will impact all school nurses.
My focus during my NASN presidency will be about trying to empower school nurses to use their voices to tell the stories of their students and about the lives they have touched, so that the public can better understand the role of the school nurse and our positive impact on the future of children in our country.
Visit www.nasn.org for more information about NASN. And to get a glimpse into the daily responsibilities of a school nurse, check out the Campaign’s “A Day in the Life” video featuring Sheila.