With school back in session, let’s recognize a schoolhouse hero: the nurse. I checked in with some current and former school nurses, all RNs, at both public and private schools around the Baltimore area and asked them what they would like parents to know. Here are their top 10 responses.
1. Don’t ignore symptoms of illness or injury
If your child has a fever in the morning, don’t just give him Tylenol and put him on the bus anyway, the nurses agree. Vomiting earns a minimum 24-hour quarantine at home. Yes, lice can be embarrassing, but please don’t pretend your kid doesn’t have them and send her to school with nits. You’re not going to fool the nurse, and you will inevitably get a call to come fetch your child. “Don’t send your kid in to school sick. You just are spreading the germs, and they need to rest,” confirms Kelly Klug, a school nurse at Loyola Blakefield in Towson.
2. The school nurse isn’t a stand-in pediatrician
If you suspect your child is not well, their primary care doctor should get the first call. The school nurse can assist in carrying out treatment plans during school hours, but “we aren’t substitutes for your child’s regular provider,” says Carrie Singer, a former Baltimore County Public Schools nurse. “We can’t diagnose and can only provide our opinions.”
3. Yes, those forms are important
They really do read all those health forms that you don’t like to fill out. Please complete them thoughtfully, thoroughly and on time. “Fill out the student’s forms every year,” Klug says. “It gives us a snapshot of the child before they walk into the building.”
4. Rules are rules
Nurse practice policies, school district rules, state regulations and health department requirements are not up for debate, the nurses say. “Any medication brought to school must be in the original bottle and accompanied by a medical order from a doctor or authorized medical provider. This includes all over-the-counter medications for your child’s use only,” says Rebecca Colt-Ferguson, a school nurse at Pot Spring Elementary School in Timonium.
“Immunization requirements are set by the state health department,” says Kate Melito, another Baltimore County Public Schools nurse. “We do not make the rules nor make exceptions to the rules.”
5. Follow-up is part of the job
“When we send home multiple notices or call to ask if you’ve followed up on a vision or hearing screen failure, know that we are not trying to harass you,” Melito says. “In the best interest of your child, the health department requires us to report back to them what follow-up was completed. Our goal is to maximize learning.”
6. Every student should have spare clothes
“All students should have extra clothing in their lockers, no matter the age,” Melito says. “The need for a change of clothes goes beyond a preschooler having an accident. Every day kids spill yogurt on their shirts or fall into mud. Little ones often do have spare clothing, but older kids end up sitting in our office, waiting for parents to bring a change of clothes.”
Do you have any children’s clothes to donate? “Check with your school nurse to see if they can be used in the schoolhouse,” Colt-Ferguson suggests.
7. Help extends beyond the school
There are many ways in which school nurses are valuable community support resources. “School nurses connect with language translators, health-care providers, pharmacists, social workers and guidance counselors,” Colt-Ferguson says. “We can help you obtain health insurance. And help you understand your health insurance and best utilize your health-care resources.”
Some families may have trouble paying for immunizations, dental visits or eyeglasses for their children. “We know what programs are out there that can help subsidize medical expenses,” Melito adds.
8. It takes a team to keep students healthy
“A nurse works as a team member to promote a safe and healthy school environment for you and your child,” Colt-Ferguson says. That team includes school staff, Klug adds. “We can only do our best at this job if we have all the information. Talking to teachers and coaches and counselors to make sure the student is safe and well taken care of during the school day is our goal,” she says. Parents and caregivers are also part of the team. “We’ll talk with your kids about healthy habits at school and hope you’ll reinforce these things at home,” Singer says.
9. Don’t be shy
“If you have a health concern for your child, please stop by to see us. Ask for an appointment if you need extra time,” Colt-Ferguson says.
Side note: I saw this personally before I was the B’more Healthy writer. When I had a new kindergartener who was afraid to use the public school restrooms, I reached out to the nurse for help, and she allowed him to use the single bathroom in her suite until he gained a little confidence.
10. Frequent fliers don’t fly under the radar
It’s important that your child attends school as often as possible. But when they are at school, do they use the nurse’s office as a refuge? Nurses understand that when your child visits often, it’s probably not the tummy ache they say it is.
“Call the nurse if something is going on at home or school,” Klug says. Together, you will figure out the best way to get kids back into the classroom. “We love to see them,” agrees Singer, “but they’re at school to be in class and learn. Frequent nurse visits get in the way of consistent instructional time and progress.”
A nurse may make a quick call to ask whether you think your child can get through the day rather than get picked up. “Sometimes, a little encouragement from home may be all they need to make it through those last few hours,” Singer adds.
While it’s challenging and not always glamorous, being a school nurse is a pretty great gig, these nurses say.
“I love my job! I feel like a mom to 950 boys every day,” Klug agrees.