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The Résumé Rx

The Complete Guide to Becoming a School Nurse: Duties, Salary, Career, and More!

Amanda Guarniere

Imagine this: the bell rings, laughter echoes through the corridors, and you’re at the heart of a bustling community, making a real difference to young lives. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Welcome to the rewarding world of school nursing. 

But what does it take to embark on this career? What can you expect? And is the salary and career outlook promising enough? 

Whether you’re a seasoned nurse looking for a change or a fresh-faced graduate eager to make a difference, we’ve got you covered. This article is your high-level guide to navigating the path to becoming a school nurse. From understanding the duties to anticipating the type of work and sketching out the career pathway, we’re here to answer all your burning questions! 

Table of Contents

What Does a School Nurse Do?

School nurses play an integral role in maintaining a healthy and safe school environment. They are not just healthcare providers, but also advocates, educators, and counselors, supporting student success in all dimensions of health. 

Their duties go beyond just providing band-aids for scraped knees. They conduct vital assessments and screenings, such as vision and hearing tests, and even scoliosis checks. These screenings are essential as they help to identify student health issues early, enabling quick and effective treatment. This early detection is crucial in preventing minor health issues from escalating into major problems that could disrupt a student’s education.  

In addition to their clinical roles, school nurses also act as a crucial link between the school, families, and healthcare providers. They efficiently manage referrals and follow-ups, making sure that students get the care they need when they need it, and that their families are kept informed and involved in their children’s health. 

From diagnosing and treating minor illnesses and injuries to managing severe physical and mental health issues, school nurses have a wide range of responsibilities. In cases where a student’s health issue is beyond their scope of practice, they are proficient in referring students to the appropriate medical facilities or specialists.  

But their work does not stop at medical care. School nurses also play a key role in community and public health education. They help to promote a culture of health and wellness within the school environment, teaching students about proper nutrition, regular exercise, and other important health habits. They also work with school administrators and teachers to develop policies and programs that support student health and safety. 

Where do School Nurses Work?

When we talk about school nurses, it’s important to note that their roles can vary significantly depending on the age group they work with. For instance, nurses stationed in preschools and elementary schools often handle fairly mild health issues. Think along the lines of tummy troubles, minor bruises, and small cuts that adventurous young students may come by. 

However, when school nurses find themselves working with older students, their focus may shift more toward areas such as sexual education, mental health support, and substance abuse education, to name a few. 

Preschools and Elementary Schools

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key responsibilities a nurse in a preschool or an elementary school setting might have: 

  • One of the primary roles is addressing issues related to proper growth and development. This includes monitoring the physical and cognitive development of students and providing necessary guidance.
  • Nurses also shoulder the responsibility of providing medication and treatment for chronic illnesses. They work closely with parents and physicians to manage conditions such as asthma or diabetes in students.
  • They are also adept at handling injuries, be it bruises, cuts, or common conditions like stomach upsets and fevers. A quick and effective response to these minor health crises is a crucial part of a school nurse’s job.

Middle School Nurses

As a school nurse in a middle school setting, the role you’ll assume goes beyond the traditional nursing duties. There are unique responsibilities you’ll need to fulfill to ensure the students thrive both physically and emotionally in their academic journey. For example: 

  • First and foremost, you’ll be tasked with addressing the physical and emotional well-being of the students. This responsibility entails conducting routine health screenings, managing chronic illnesses, and providing immediate care for injuries. On the emotional front, you’ll be a trusted adult figure students can turn to when they’re grappling with various issues, from stress and anxiety to depression. 
  • At this stage of adolescence, students may exhibit more advanced behavioral issues. As a school nurse, you’ll be frequently dealing with these challenges. By collaborating closely with teachers, counselors, and parents, you can create supportive environments that help students navigate these critical years successfully. 
  • Furthermore, school nurses play a pivotal role in educating students, parents and staff about upcoming issues that are pertinent to this age group. In the digital age, topics like social media addiction and internet safety are increasingly important to address. By providing resources and hosting workshops, you can help the school community understand and tackle these issues effectively. 

High School Nurses

Ever wonder what a day in the life of a high school nurse looks like? Here’s a glimpse into the diverse responsibilities you’d take on:

  • A Champion for Sexual Health. One of your primary tasks will involve addressing issues related to sexual activity. This includes providing support and guidance to students dealing with teen pregnancy, as well as educating them about sexually transmitted diseases. Your role is not to judge but to provide information and resources that can help them make informed decisions about their health. 
  • The Battle Against Substance Abuse. As a school nurse, you also play a critical role in identifying drug and substance abuse among students. This involves recognizing signs of abuse, offering a listening ear, and connecting students with resources for treatment and recovery. Your involvement can potentially change the trajectory of a student’s life. 
  • Education on Alcohol and Drugs. Prevention is just as important as intervention. As a school nurse, you play a pivotal role in providing alcohol and drug education to students. This means equipping them with the knowledge they need about the risks and consequences associated with substance use. Your goal is to help them make informed, responsible choices that promote their overall well-being. 

Where else can School Nurses Work?

Imagine being an RN, but your workplace is buzzing with the vibrant energy of a school! That’s the life of a school nurse, primarily stationed amidst the lively learning environment of educational institutions. But beyond that, school nurses can also work in the following places: 

  • Colleges and universities
  • Vocational schools
  • Hospitals
  • Military bases
  • Pre-school and kindergartens
  • Private and parochial schools
  • Public schools
  • Summer camps

School Nurse Salary Info (How much do they actually make?)

The average salary for a school nurse in the US is $49,000 per year.

The typical salary range falls between $43,500 and $68,800, but it varies widely depending on location, skills, experience and where you work.

Career Path to Becoming a School Nurse

Step 1: Get an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN)

You’ll need an ADN or BSN from an accredited college or university although the National Association of School Nurses recommends earning a BSN. 

If you already have an ADN, you can complete an RN-to-BSN program which takes 1-2 years to complete. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing program, you can enroll in an accelerated BSN program, which takes about 12-18 months.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX-RN exam gives you eligibility for nursing licensure. This certification allows nurses to apply their knowledge to practical medical scenarios and consists of four parts:

  • Physiological integrity
  • Psychological integrity
  • Safety and effective care environment 
  • Health promotion and maintenance 

Step 3: Get certified

While this may not be a requirement by all states or employers, nursing certifications showcase your commitment to the role while highlighting your knowledge and experience. 

For example, the NBCSN offers RNs the nationally certified school nurse (NSCN) certification. To earn this certification, you’ll need:

  • An active RN license
  • A BSN degree or higher
  • 1,000 hours of clinical experience within the last 3 years
  • A passing score on the NBCSN exam

To renew this certification, you’ll need to:

  • Pay the required renewal fee, usually between $370 and $440
  • Submit a copy of your RN license
  • Submit a passing score of the most recent certification exam
  • Have 2,000 hours of clinical nursing in the past 5 years, of which 750 should be within the past 3 years
  • Document proof of employment in school health or a related field

Step 4: Gain clinical experience

Most healthcare facilities tend to favor nurses who have 1-2 years of clinical nursing experience under their belts prior to hiring. 

Gaining practical experience in settings that allow you to interact with children on a regular basis, such as pediatric units or community health centers, will provide you with the specialized background required to excel as a school nurse. 

Not only will this experience allow you to understand children’s health needs better, but it will also help in developing your communication skills with this age group, a critical aspect in the school nurse role.

Core Skills Required to Become a School Nurse

For those who are drawn to the field of nursing and have a particular fondness for working with children and teenagers, school nursing is the sweet spot where these two interests intersect.

School nurses are required to possess a unique blend of skills, both medical and interpersonal, to guarantee their success and offer optimal support to students. Here are some of the key skills and traits that are worth honing if you’re considering a career in this field: 

  • Excellent communication: As a school nurse, you’ll need to clearly and effectively communicate with students, parents, and staff. This involves explaining complex medical concepts in easy-to-understand terms, as well as listening and responding to concerns.
  • Organizational skills: With so many students to care for and records to keep track of, a high level of organization is essential in this role.
  • Time management: The ability to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively is crucial. You can expect to be handling multiple responsibilities at any given time, including physical examinations, first aid, and administrative tasks.
  • Flexibility: In a school setting, unexpected situations can arise at any moment. A good school nurse is adaptable and can shift gears quickly to address these unexpected situations.
  • Patience: Working with children and young adults requires patience, as they may be nervous or uncooperative when it comes to medical matters.
  • Empathy: Empathy allows you to understand and share the feelings of students, which is key in providing compassionate care and making students feel comfortable and understood.

FAQs

How long does it take to become a school nurse?

The schooling & accreditation process takes 2-4 years to complete depending on the length of the program. 

Is school nursing stressful?

As with any other high-pressure career, school nursing can be challenging. Timely delivery of a heavy workload requires a strong work ethic, patience, and diligence. 

What is the career outlook for school nurses?

There are approximately 73,000 school nurses employed in the United States. While according to Zipia, the projected job growth of school nurses is 12% from 2018-2028 which is evidenced by the over 280,000 school nurse job openings in the US alone. 

What are the benefits of being a school nurse? 

School nurses typically work 9 months out of the year. Some other potential benefits of working as a school nurse are flexible working hours, and getting positively impacting others through positive relationships. Furthermore, school nursing could be less stressful compared to staff nursing where you’d have to deal with the lives of others in a medical setting. 

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