School nurses have to handle everything from acute problems like splinters and sprained ankles to chronic issues such as asthma and diabetes. They manage school physicals, deal with crisis counseling, keep track of immunizations and promote healthy lifestyle choices.
Communicating with Parents and Teachers. School nurses should consider contacting both parents and teachers via email with healthy reminders such as cold and flu prevention, proper hand washing techniques and advice for parents on keeping sick children at home. Encouraging feedback and regular communication helps keep everyone on the right track to health.
Natural Care for Injured or Ill Students. Although school budgets don't always allow for organic and natural wellness products at schools, illness can be avoided with some very basic activities. Sheramy Vandernat, RN, BSN, offers these tips for nurses on how to keep kids healthy at school:
1. Encourage good hand hygiene
- To give kids an idea of how long it should take to thoroughly wash their hands, teach them to sing Happy Birthday or their ABCs twice while scrubbing. (Incidentally, the same singing idea applies for teeth brushing, although it's much harder to sing with a toothbrush in your mouth.)
- Visit the CDC's website for the recommended hand washing technique.
- Teach parents and students that bottled hand sanitizers are intended for use when soap and water are inaccessible, not as a replacement. Although hand sanitizers are convenient, kids should still wash their hands with soap and water at the first opportunity for a more effective job. Also, be sure to use natural soaps over antibacterial ones, which almost always contain the precarious chemical triclosan or triclocarban. Both of these chemicals have been found to be endocrine disruptors and wreak havoc on our waterways.
2. Make sure parents feed their kids breakfast before school.
Ideally, every child will have a big, healthy breakfast at home. Suggest that parents consider organic yogurt, cereals, fruit or bars. But let parents know that it's fine to serve their children last night's leftovers if that is all the child wants to eat. The point is to provide healthy fuel for the day.
3. Educate parents about healthy sleep habits.
To learn about the recommended sleep requirements for children, the CDC provides useful information. The website gives the average number of hours based on the child's age, plus tips on how to establish healthy sleep habits. Parents may find this helpful for their own rest, as well.
4. Encourage parents to keep sick children home especially if they have a fever.
The Mayo Clinic provides information on the top five reasons kids miss school, and when it is safe to have them return to class.
5. Teach sneeze etiquette.
- Teach kids basic information about spreading germs, including proper sneezing etiquette (into the elbow to avoid hand contamination) and how to dispose of tissues and Band-Aids (followed, of course, by hand washing).
- The CDC provides a free downloadable graphic poster in English and Spanish that shows proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
6. Keep in contact.
Students who have health issues such as asthma or diabetes need parents, teachers and the school nurse to work together to ensure their health and well-being. Nurses should make sure everyone stays in good communication and keep medical orders and medicines up-to-date at school.
7. Food wise.
Despite the progress of many school meal programs, some still have room for improvement. Nurses can be an advocate for establishing school wellness policies and lobbying for healthy menu items. They can also teach parents how to pack a healthy lunch.
8. Keep these must-have products on hand:
Health screenings and physicals. School nurses have health inventories on children to keep them healthy and safe. Any injuries or previous medical conditions should be reported to avoid potential safety issues. In some states, a physical examination by a physician or certified nurse practitioner must be completed prior to entering the public school system or within six months after entering the system. School nurses also conduct regular hearing and vision screening. The CDC has many resources, including a database of information tailored to topic and grade.
Health promotion. School nurses have the difficult job of teaching students, parents and teachers about everything from hand washing to drug prevention. One way to get the message across is through assemblies on one specific health topics. Also, offering small group workshops help students understand these issues. Send information home with kids to educate parents about illness prevention and overall health.
Chronic conditions. Children's health conditions are becoming more and more complex, and the number of students diagnosed with diabetes and other chronic illnesses is on the rise. School nurses may care for students with such chronic conditions as diabetes, Crohn's disease and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. In addition, nurses are responsible for administering medication for emotional, behavioral and social conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and autism. School nurses should keep up-to-date, detailed records of every student with a chronic condition, as well as medication types and dosages. Keep in close contact with parents to stay on top of any changes. In addition, nurses should be aware of the symptoms of these conditions, so they are able to alert parents and teachers when there might be a problem.