During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re relying on the expertise of medical professionals more than ever. At the same time, the pandemic has also prompted measures that have shut down schools and other institutions and required people to practice social distancing.
These measures have also spurred the growth of telehealth tools. Instead of going into offices, people have visited their doctors, nurses, and physician assistants remotely by using devices such as smartphones, computers, and tablets.
When the pandemic ends, will we still rely on telehealth tools so heavily? If we do, will this change certain health care professions, such as school nursing positions?
What do school nurses do?
“School nursing is a specialized practice of nursing that advances the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement and health of students,” according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN).
Their job entails much more than taking care of the health of students at primary and secondary schools. Instead, school nurses are charged with helping children succeed in many areas.
For example, school nurses have the training and compassion that can help determine if students are being abused or neglected. They can help students whose parents may need addiction treatment or assistance – or if the students need such help themselves. This assistance can help students survive – and thrive.
What kind of challenges do school nurses face?
As vital as their jobs are, there are simply not enough school nurses to go around. In California alone, there is only one school nurse for every 2,410 students, reported Kidsdata.org.
Some school districts lack the funds to employ part-time nurses. But since many of the students who attend these schools are poor themselves, the lack of accessible medical care may be especially harmful.
Even if school districts do employ nurses, they may not employ them for each school in their district. Instead, nurses may divide their times among several schools, which still means that one nurse may be responsible for the health and well-being of many, many students.
How can school nurses utilize telehealth tools?
Given these heavy workloads and pressing student needs, nurses may be able to use telehealth as a medical tool. Instead of threatening to replace nurses, telehealth can aid them.
Virtual medical tools can be especially useful if one nurse is assigned to many schools. Instead of losing valuable time commuting from one school to the next, nurses can see more students during a day by visiting them remotely.
Similarly, students who are pressed for time because they have academic, extracurricular, and work commitments may find it easier to fit remote appointments into their schedules. If their district nurses work out of different schools than the ones they attend, students might not have to arrange transportation to visit them. They can visit them remotely instead.
Nurses and students may live far from medical facilities and specialists who treat specific conditions. Telehealth tools allow people to reach these specialists and benefit from their expertise. It can help nurses educate students – and themselves – easily and affordably.
How do school nurses and telehealth relate to the pandemic and school shutdowns?
Education and health care haven’t stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth and other virtual tools are some of the reasons why.
Even if schools and doctors’ offices are closed, school nurses may be able to reach students from their homes. This arrangement can help students. It can also help their families if the students have relatives who are unable to access medical care or other resources.
While stay-at-home measures have closed schools, the buildings won’t be closed forever. But there has been much debate about how and when they’ll reopen. School nurses can play a vital role in determining this.
Regarding the reopening of schools, the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) says that school nurses can provide
- Leadership. School nurses can consult with government leaders, local and state governments, and others to assess situations.
- Resources. School nurses could help determine available resources and ask for additional resources for their schools and districts.
- Communication. School nurses can work with school districts’ communication departments and facilities departments to establish protocols and inform others about them.
- Protocols. School nurses can help determine protocols, such as what to do at a school where a student has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Information. School nurses can collect data from students and families who have had COVID-19 and trace their contacts to try to prevent it from spreading.
- Medical care. School nurses can provide medical care for students and families who have contracted the coronavirus or make plans for students who may have a higher risk of catching it.
- Psychological assistance. School nurses can provide or arrange assistance to students who may be grieving or suffering related to COVID-19.
With the expansion of telehealth and other technological tools, school nurses can complete many of the items on this list online.
Such virtual tools mean that telehealth won’t replace school nurses or threaten their careers. Technology can assist school nurses who are helping others. It can also help them advance in their professions.
With virtual tools, compassion, and ingenuity, good school nurses won’t even let pandemics slow them down.
About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health alcohol recovery centers who are interested in science and medicine, gender issues, and human rights.
- nasn.org – The Role of the 21st Century School Nurse
- kidsdata.org – Ratio of Students to Pupil Support Service Personnel, by Type of Personnel
- nasn.org – Telehealth, The Role of School Nursing in
- higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com – Interim Guidance: Role of the School Nurse in Return to School Planning