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 Celebrating School Nurses

What comes to mind when you think of going to a school nurse – an ice pack for a bump, a bandage for a scrape, a temperature check for a fever?

While all of those soothing measures occur daily at K-12 schools around the country, many are administered by health technicians rather than a credentialed school nurse. While school health technicians, who are licensed vocational nurses, are caring and qualified, there are big differences.

Today marks National School Nurse Day, which recognizes the education, qualifications, and experience of these health professionals working in school districts.  

"Often, only the surface of what a school nurse does is seen, not the depth of what they do," said Jeanne Salvadori, School Nursing Services program specialist for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE).

A credentialed school nurse is a registered nurse, has a baccalaureate degree, and is credentialed by the California Department of Education. They have numerous roles and responsibilities, including conducting health assessments and screenings of students; providing health education, case management, health counseling, and preventive care; and administering medicines. They also provide training for school staff.

"A credentialed school nurse has a much more rich depth and breadth of knowledge, experiences, resources, and assessments," said Ellie Slater-Kobetsky, the school nurse for SDCOE's Juvenile Court and Community Schools. "The school nurse credential programs give you tools, knowledge, and access to what students need to be their healthiest and most engaged."

As the JCCS school nurse, Slater-Kobetsky visits 21 sites, sometimes three per day. "It's a very rewarding position. And kids are happy to see me. They will reach out."

The staffing of credentialed school nurses varies widely from site to site, Salvadori said. Some districts staff schools with health technicians, and the credentialed school nurses will work at the district level, traveling to school sites for various needs. In San Diego Unified, for example, all high schools and middle schools have a credentialed nurse.

"Every school nurse wants every child to be safe at school and access their full education potential without a health barrier," Salvadori said.

Research shows that having a school nurse is cost-effective and that attendance is higher at these schools.

"School nurses know how to manage a student's health issue, rather than just sending a child home," Salvadori said. "For example, a child with asthma: A school nurse will know how to treat, manage, and work with parents."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised the work of school nurses in a proclamation for National School Nurse Day. "Nurses play a key role in serving the needs of the whole child, particularly when students suffer from chronic conditions or rely on schools to provide routine health screenings," he said.

Torlakson added that he supports an increase in funding to restore school nursing positions that suffered cutbacks during the recession.

"A healthy California depends on healthy students, and we depend on (school nurses) to provide the care that will get them off to the best start possible."

National School Nurse Day is always held the week of Florence Nightingale's birthday, and the local chapter of the California School Nurses Association (CSNO) is hosting a celebration at SDCOE today. Awards will be presented to CSNO, San Diego-Imperial Section members Pam Fleming for Excellence in Nursing; Dr. Howard Taras for Health Services and School Health Advocate; and Luisa Monson for Above and Beyond.