By Shari Hazelbaker
“Go see the school nurse,” were not words I ever heard when I was a kid in school. I only remember a sick-room in my elementary school that had an ugly orange coverlet on a cot tucked away in a room that was most likely a repurposed closet. But times have changed and school health offices are no longer reclaimed closets and school health services provide a vital role in the success of a child’s school day.
Many think of the school nurse and envision band aids and ice packs. To be honest, school nurses do hand out countless ice packs and hundreds of band aids, but we also do so much more. School nurses wear many hats and we strive to support the physical, emotional, mental and social health of students. School nurses work to remove health barriers that get in the way of a child’s ability to learn. The specialized practice of school nursing began in 1902 in New York City Schools when a school nurse was hired to help reduce absenteeism due to communicable disease. Today school nurses still work to create healthy environments for students to prevent the spread of disease. We partner with both county and state public health to monitor immunizations, track and report communicable disease occurrences and provide education to students and families regarding illnesses.
The increased need for specialized school nursing care in the school grew in 1975 when the federal government passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This act required that any school receiving public funds to provide equal access to children with physical or mental disabilities. School nurses partner with parents and physicians to meet the unique needs of all children. We create individualized health plans and emergency care plans for students with specific health needs. The care we provide may be as simple as giving a daily medication or more complex, like monitoring students with food allergies, seizure disorders, and tube feedings or provide specialized care for any chronic or acute health concern. We partner with teachers and staff to share emergency health information while emphasizing the need for confidentiality. We partner with special education staff and teachers to provide assessments and contribute to the team’s ability to meet the unique needs of the student receiving these services. We partner with parents and families to work together to create a healthy school environment for their child. We also partner with the student to establish trust and help them learn about their health needs.
While the role of the school nurse has grown and changed, technology has had an impact on how we provide care. Electronic health records, statewide immunization databases, computerized charting and even assessment tools are ways technology is used in the school health setting. This year the nurses also received iPads as part of the district technology initiative. We use this technology daily to enhance our productivity. We chart health office visits and screenings using the iPads. We use the iPad for our appointment calendars and to communicate with each other, students and other district staff. But along with the classroom teacher, nurses are also using applications available on the iPad to teach students about health. Tamie Kugler, LPN, our Elementary School nurse is taking the lead on implementing an app specifically for our students with diabetes that allows them to track their blood sugars and carbohydrate intake. This app takes the individuals data and creates graphs that help students pinpoint trouble spots. It also helps parents and school nurses work together to meet the needs of the child with diabetes and share the information gathered with the child’s health care provider.
For the students of Watertown-Mayer, “Go see the school nurse,” may be a simple intervention such as a band aid or ice pack, but it also means much more.
Shari Hazelbaker is the district nurse for Watertown-Mayer Schools. Royal Happenings is a weekly feature of the Carver County News and is written by Watertown-Mayer Schools staff or students.