Things to know about the school nurse shortage

There's a massive school nurse shortage. Would you be a good fit?

The school nurse may have been part of some of your worst childhood memories—puking in class, breaking a bone on the playground, getting sent home sick on field trip day. But if you had a school nurse, consider yourself lucky.

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These days, the school nurse shortage has been described as a "national crisis," according to Nurse.org. While the American Academy of Pediatrics habitually recommends one school nurse per 750 healthy students, just 60% of schools employ even one nurse full time. And according to the National Association of School Nurses, one in four schools have no nurse at all.

Do you have what it takes to overcome this shortage?

If you're able to become a school nurse, consider yourself luckier still. These jobs are in such high demand that nurses who can fill them might get some prime benefits, along with a highly desirable schedule.

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Here's what the job demands and what you can expect in return if you sign on as a school nurse:

Education and accreditation: Students who want the job would first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited university; an associate's degree isn't enough. Individual school nurses must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination and become licensed in their state. In some states, school nurses also commonly earn a Master's in Science of Nursing or a Master's in Education. Usually a school district will also want a nurse with a few years prior clinical experience, according to Nurse.org.

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Salary and benefits. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary figures for all registered nurses combined rather than for particular specializations, so it's tough to get an idea of a salary range for school nurses. According to Payscale.com the average hourly rate for a school nurse is $21.11 The average annual salary is $47,660, with the lowest 10% still averaging $30,000 and the highest earning 10% of school nurses earning about $66,000. It's important to remember that this varies wildly by school or by state, though, and the onus is on the school nurse applicant to discuss salary ahead of time. While the pay may seem good or even lavish, depending on your area's employment scenario, also remember that there are extra benefits to being a school nurse. One is the time off, since usually a school nurse is gone when the students are out. Another is the daily schedule, which tends to be 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

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Personality and attitude required. While it's important to have the correct educational background to perform school nurse duties, a nurse's outlook and personality may be even more important. School nurses can be responsible for anything from teaching sex education to reporting suspected human trafficking to providing an inclusive school environment through assistance for students with certain disabilities. Due to the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act and advances in health technology, school nurses now care "for students with chronic illnesses, disabilities, and mental health conditions. Gone are the days of only treating scrapes and bruises," according to Nurse.org. "Today's school nurse manages everything from diabetes and concussions to suicidal ideations and gender transitions."

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Just like other nurses, school nurses amidst this national shortage are expected to "help students and their families manage diseases," Nurse.org added. "Administering medications and treatments — including providing tube feedings, catheterization, and tracheostomy care — are some of the daily tasks of school nurses." In other words, if you're expecting a job where you'll mostly bandage scraped knees and call parents to get kids who are vomiting, those days are long past.

On the other hand, today's school nurse has a unique opportunity to make a daily impact on the vulnerable, underserved school child population. Her presence does everything from increase attendance to help contain health costs to reduce the number of vaccination exemptions in the community she serves. As the AAP emphasized, "School nursing is a specialized practice of professional nursing that advances the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement and health of students." 

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