Health: School nurses doing more than handing out aspirin

By Debbie Bell/Franklin County Health Department, Published:

Although many counties in Kentucky have dismissed their school nurse programs, Frankfort and Franklin County now have registered nurses in each elementary, middle and high school.

Gone are the days of the school nurse that solely took temperatures and dealt with the student needing an occasional analgesic.

Today’s school nurse performs more complex treatments such as catheterizations, feedings through gastrostomy tubes, insulin injections, and tracheal suctioning. There are a greater number of students dealing with chronic conditions including diabetes, asthma, allergies and seizures.  

School nurses also provide screenings that include height, weight, vision and dental. This allows the nurse to make a specialized referral if care is needed. Unfortunately because of poverty, lack of transportation or family conflicts, the school nurse may be the only health care professional that the student encounters.  

Many of our nurses see an average of up to 40 patients a day. Of these visits, many consist of giving daily medications to students.

A higher number of students these days take scheduled medications for health issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), acid reflux, mental health disorders, diabetes, asthma and many others. 

Health committee formed    

Education and health care must mesh in order for our students to be able to perform at their greatest potential. Both Franklin County and Frankfort Independent Schools now have a coordinated school health committee.

This collaboration works to improve nutrition, family and community involvement and physical education not only for the students and their families, but also for staff. Students, parents, staff and community members are welcome to be involved with this committee.

Obesity is one of the main areas of focus for the committee. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

Studies show that healthy students perform better than unhealthy students. In addition, we see that when students are healthy they experience less absenteeism. 

There are no federal legislation mandates for school nurse to student ratios. However, the National Association of School Nurses recommends a nurse to student ratio of one to 750.

Many considerations come into play when deciding how much time each nurse spends at each school. The number of students, medically fragile students and those with multiple disabilities are always considered. 

When a school operates without a nurse, the responsibility for administering medications and treating students falls to the administrators and staff. These people often do not have the knowledge, proper training or desire to deal with complicated health concerns. 

Vaccines at school

The school nurse also protects the public’s health by offering vaccine against the outbreak of contagious diseases, especially the flu. Each fall all students and staff have the opportunity to get their annual flu vaccine at the school.

This convenience helps to vaccinate many who otherwise may not have the time or resources to do so elsewhere. This also helps increase attendance for both staff and students.  

 As we continue to pursue ways to help our students of Frankfort and Franklin County reach their highest potential, school health will always play an important role. Most educators and health professionals would agree that when children have a system in place to stay healthy and focused on learning, everyone benefits.

Debbie Bell is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the Community Health Education Department at the Franklin County Health Department, 100 Glenns Creek Road.

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