shortcutOct 15, 2018
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school nurses' role continues to evolve

There is at least one registered nurse (RN) at each of the three school buildings in the Schalmont Central School District. For all of them, no two days are ever the same, but every day brings a mix of opportunities to treat and prevent health issues.

What might surprise some parents is how much a nurse's day has changed over the years.

"Our main role is to try to keep students healthy and informed and to help them make healthy choices," said Linda Mortensen, a nurse at Schalmont Middle School for more than 20 years.

Keeping kids healthy takes on many forms. The most obvious is the treatment of illnesses and injuries as they occur during the school day. This generally involves evaluating conditions and providing first aid as needed or contacting the school physicians (Five Corners Family Practice) for more serious issues.

"We're also a really good resource for parents," said Mortensen, who regularly receives calls from parents who are looking for health information or advice as to whether or not to take their children to a physician.

Prevention is also an important part of keeping kids healthy. When students come in with a health concern, many school nurses use the visit to educate them about ways to keep from getting sick again. They often speak to students about topics such as playground rules and safety issues, nutrition and the food pyramid, and ways to prevent the spread of germs during the flu season.

School nurses perform many activities, most of which are mandated by state law.

The mandated activities include reviewing and documenting health appraisals; conducting vision, hearing and scoliosis screenings; reviewing and documenting immunizations; preparing and administering prescription and non-prescription medications; identifying and reporting communicable diseases to the New York State Health Department; and tracking students' Body Mass Index (BMI) and weight status category.

Certain nurses also oversee sports physicals, serve on the Wellness Committee and/or Safety Committee, and provide staff training on health issues.

School nurses' roles are often complementary to those of school counselors and psychologists. Sometimes they see students who are having a bad day or just need to talk.

Whether emotional or physical, good health has a direct effect on academics and classroom performance. Nurse's do much more than apply band-aids. They help students feel better so they can focus in class or send them home to prevent the spread of an illness.

They also administer medications and treatments that allow many children with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, seizure disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism, and food allergies to remain in school. That treatment sometimes involves serious procedures such as catheterizations, tube feedings and insulin shots.

School nurses' responsibilities may have increased over the years, but their role as caregivers has remained just as important as ever.

The health and safety of students is foremost in everyone's mind, and school nurses help preserve that.