Did you know that millions of students in this country do not have access to a school nurse if they experience a medical emergency? This has become a major concern as schools reopen for in-person learning during the pandemic. A school nurse shortage is not a new problem, but our current situation has certainly amplified the need. Let’s take a closer look at the issue and what our community of teachers has to say.
U.S. school nurse shortage is dire
The highly transmissible delta COVID variant continues to spread and create spikes in cases across the country. At the same time, classrooms are packed while parents and administrators fight over mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Back in the spring, some even feared that the school nurse shortage could make reopening schools difficult.
Once considered essential staff, the role of the school nurse has become less certain. This is despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one full-time nurse in every school. According to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), at least 35 percent of school nurses are employed only part-time, while 25 percent of schools don’t even have one.
What does this mean for the average family? If a child experiences a medical emergency, the situation will be handled by personnel with little to no medical training. In rural schools with limited access to emergency medical services and hospitals, school nurse shortages are more common. Just like everything else right now, the pandemic has made this problem much worse.
Caught between parents and politicians
School nurses have been very busy during the pandemic. One NASN survey from April 2020 showed that at least 78 percent studied the data on COVID-19 infection trends, and 43 percent used that information to update and create school health policies. Nearly half also said they spent time answering phone calls and questions from concerned parents and the community.
Despite their role in keeping schools and child care programs safe and open for in-person learning, many are now unemployed. Some schools have said they don’t need a school nurse. Some were furloughed during virtual learning. Others have quit because they feel the working conditions are unsafe—and the hope that this could improve is dwindling.
When vaccines rolled out last spring, everyone felt hopeful. People were still taking preventative measures, and numbers were dropping. Then, the vaccine efforts plateaued, people stopped wearing masks, and cases jumped. On top of that, an incredibly contentious war began as parents and politicians fought over mask mandates, in-person learning, and vaccines. School nurses are caught in the crossfire.
As the only healthcare professional in schools, they are frustrated to have their guidance dismissed. Without protective policies in place, many schools are already in crisis this year. Many have already switched back to remote learning. To meet the need, some schools are offering hiring bonuses to attract nurses. Meanwhile, lawmakers have recently pushed to create the NURSE (Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere) Act grant program.
Are teachers impacted by the school nurse shortage?
We polled our own community of teachers about the worsening school nurse shortage. Their responses highlight how different the situation can be from one school to the next. Here are some of the responses:
“What’s a nurse? What does it look like? 👀” —Francesca P.
“Nurse shortage? No, but we have a teacher shortage, and a bus driver shortage, and a custodian shortage, and a cafeteria worker shortage … about the only thing we do have is a nurse.” —Jennifer R.
“I haven’t seen a school with a nurse in 10 years.” —Jennifer C.
“We just have clinic attendants and then nurses at the county level that supervise them. I do not know about all of them, but some of them have some sort of med tech training or nursing.” —Debbie N.
“We use one of the hospitals to fill our positions. We have a contract with the company and they do all the management and staffing.” —Tedrick H.
“Our school has a partnership with the state’s hospital. We have a RN and nurses and students in medical school who come to get their volunteer hours…” —Tia H.
“We have never had a school nurse in all of the years I have been here. That’s 25 years.” —Nikki W.
“A shortage? We have a nurse aide who visits once or twice a week.” —Mary Anne B.
“We have a FT nurse, but sometimes once a week she has to go to another school.” —Jennifer F.
“We’ve never had one here. I keep a first aid kit in my desk to patch up my kids who hurt themselves in PE or woodshop.” —Alex M.
“We have clinic workers instead. Basically office staff that had some additional training.” —Ashley S.
“We only have a nurse on campus 1 day a week. It has been this way for at least 3 years.” —Kathie B.
“Yes! It is so crazy to me! I knew we had a teacher shortage, but now the school nurses as well! We currently have our recently retired RN here because we can’t find anyone new.” —Emily H.