A major consequence of the nationwide nurse shortage is a lack of school nurses. Less than half of the public schools around the country have full-time nurses, and it’s even worse in urban and underfunded schools, leaving one school nurse for every 4,000 students.
Recent statistics from the National Association of School Nurses reports that more than 30 percent of schools only have part-time nurses. A decline in school nurses has been occurring since the early 2000s, with the beginning of the nationwide recession. Instead of rehiring as the recession has receded, most schools decided to rotate nurses among districts.
This has led to teachers, principals, and administrative staff taking on the roles of school nurses. School staffs tend to bandaging cuts, giving out medication, and managing food allergies and blood sugar levels. President of the National Association of School Nurses, Beth Mattey, advocates for the role of school nurses to keep kids in school.
School nurses have become increasingly essential to learning, yet more and more of them are being cut from schools, and many parents and educators may not be aware of the consequences. Since the 1980s, there has been a spike in the number of children with chronic illnesses including asthma, food allergies, diabetes, obesity, and epilepsy. These chronic illnesses are even more prevalent among children with poorer families or those living in poverty, causing a greater need for school nurses in districts that can’t afford them. Many education advocacy groups have begun speaking up, advocating for the hiring of more school nurses, and raising awareness about this serious issue that many people are unaware of.
Philadelphia has been hit especially hard by the school nurse epidemic. In Pennsylvania 14.4 percent of students have asthma, but in Philadelphia that number is raised to 22 percent. There are many children in Philadelphia living in poverty, and school nurses are often their only source of health care, making school nurses essential to healthcare needs and education. Currently, there are 180 nurses employed in Philadelphia’s 332 schools containing 200,000 students. Philadelphia has become the model for the effect a school nurse deficiency can have on a community, especially a community where many families live in poverty.
Many of the large urban school districts around the country are experiencing a school nurse shortage. This issue has been addressed by Congress where new legislation was introduced last month allowing schools and districts to apply for federal grants that will reduce the cost of hiring nurses. The city of Philadelphia now plans to staff each school with a full-time nurse and full-time school counselor. It remains to be seen whether the money will be available to do so, but other school districts are hopeful that they can follow in Philadelphia’s footsteps.