When you enter the front door of most schools, there is quite a bit to be seen. The front office staff, usually some posters or informational flyers, maybe a few students. But, usually, off to the side there is another office that you may not even notice. Inside of that office sits, what could be considered, one of the unsung heroes of our schools.
The student population of Madison County Schools is quickly approaching 12,000. We know who monitors their attendance, we know who monitors their behavior, and we know who monitors their education. But, who is monitoring their health? You’re probably thinking “the nurse. Duh!” But, monitoring the health of so many students requires more than peppermints for stomach aches and Band-aids for cuts and scrapes from the playground. Our nurses are instrumental to keeping our students healthy and in the classroom, and their roles extend well beyond their offices.
Through a contract between the Health Department and the Berea Independent School District, the first school health clinic opened at Berea Community School in 1992. The original purpose of this contract was to do Well Child Check-Ups. In 1996, Family Resource Centers had a “health service” addition to their grants, which created an expansion to nine clinics between the elementary schools. The opening of Shannon Johnson Elementary marked the first time that a school nurse was a staff position from the beginning of the planning process. In 2013, the Madison County Health Department cut the School Health Program and $250,000 was raised by some of the nurses to fund their jobs for a year, in order to prove their necessity. The data that was collected during that school year was presented at a board meeting on May 14, 2014. The result of this presentation was the hiring of all ten nurses by the Madison County School District.
Today, our nursing staff includes: an RN District Health Coordinator, an RN School Health Clinic Services Manager, ten Staff RN’s, and one CMA. These medical professionals service 11,876 students, a population split into two high schools, five middle schools, ten elementary schools, one kindergarten academy, and one day treatment center. Of this nursing staff, only two RN’s work at only one school- both high schools are staffed with a full-time nurse because of their population. These pivotal staff members combine to bring our schools over 277 years of experience between them.
Roles and Responsibilities
Inside of their offices, school nurses provide first-aid services, administer medication, and, as District Health Coordinator Rebecca Carr says, the nurses treat the “whole student.” This means when a student comes to the nurse with an ailment, the nurse is thinking beyond just simply treating the student and sending them back to class, especially if it is a recurring issue. “Sometimes they come to you for a stomach ache and what they really need is a hug,” said Nicole Hobbs, the school nurse for both Daniel Boone Elementary and Boonesborough Elementary.
The job of a school nurse extends beyond these roles though. School nurses also provide health education, assess playgrounds for any potential hazards, and consistently check on the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) machines. These are just a few of the roles that they have outside of their offices. Nurses also work with other members of school staff to ensure the health of students. They provide the training and oversight of medication administration by designated staff members, train bus drivers who have students with special medical needs on their busses, and work with the cafeteria staff to make sure that nutrition information is available to students who have things like food allergies or diabetes.
Bridging the Gap
The healthcare system can be difficult to navigate, but our school nurses help make it easier. The health education they provide can help families feel more comfortable when deciding if a doctor’s visit for their child is necessary. Sharon Barnes is the RN at Madison Central High School and while doing a survey on current immunization records, discovered a hiccup in local doctor’s offices providing the immunizations. “Sometimes families don’t even know what they don’t know,” she said. “Take for example, these immunizations. We of course recommend that parents have the immunizations done at a doctor’s office, but sometimes they don’t know that if that they can’t get in with their doctor in time, there are places they can walk in and have the immunization done.” This is just one example of our school nurses providing families with the resources they need.
For the Community
Our school nurses are the gatekeepers for our students, making the quick decisions for treatment and if the student is healthy enough to stay in the classroom or if they need to be sent home. They also help keep balance within the community, ensuring the health of students so that families don’t have to take extra time off of work. So, what do school nurses want the community to know about their jobs?
“This school clinic is a mini E.R and I never know what I’m going to see on a day to day basis. But, the nurse is the first line of defense in the case of a medical emergency for anyone on the school property, and we have to be prepared for anything,” explained Sharon Barnes.
“We help create healthy generations, because these students may be taking care of us one day. Our children need to be in the classroom and learning, and we help keep them there,” said School Health Clinic Services Manager Michelle Malicote.
The traditional setting of the nursing profession would usually see them in a doctor’s office or a hospital. Their office in a school is anything but traditional, and still they thrive. Their title of “school nurse” doesn’t negate their title of R.N. and students awaiting transplants have the same school nurse as students with stomach aches, and that nurse effectively treats them both. Our school nurses are crucial to the success of our students, often stepping into new roles daily- teacher, social worker, guidance counselor, etc. At Madison County Schools we are so thankful to have such a dedicated and caring group of nurses taking care of our students day in and day out!