The Challenges of Being a School Nurse and How to Resolve Them

If you’re working as the school nurse at a learning institution, you’ll quickly realize that practicing medicine outside of a healthcare environment comes with its own unique challenges.

If you’re working as the school nurse at a learning institution, you’ll quickly realize that practicing medicine outside of a healthcare environment comes with its own unique challenges. You’re no longer one of many nurses and healthcare providers; you’re often the only healthcare professional in a highly academic environment. This can lead to competing interests, ethical issues, and new trials and tribulations. 

Dealing with Limited Resources

As a school nurse, you’re dependent on the school’s budget and resources when it comes to providing healthcare. Your department will be just a small fraction of the school’s overall budgetary concerns. And in many states, investment in grade school education has fallen dramatically over the last decade, with many schools struggling to pay for textbooks, field trips, and other learning essentials. This doesn’t leave a lot of extra money for healthcare. You may have to stretch your supplies and resources as much as possible.

When working with a limited budget, you might have to adjust your approach to healthcare. Some students may not get the care they need at school, forcing the family to find additional care outside of school. You might recommend a student get an eye exam or see a specialist, but some families and students may not be able to afford healthcare outside of school, leaving these students with few options. As a healthcare provider, you’ll need to learn how to deal with the limits of working outside the healthcare system. Some situations will be out of your control.

Conflicting Needs and Points of View

Providing healthcare is not the primary objective in an academic environment. You’ll have to contend with competing interests and points of view when caring for students in a school setting. Teachers and school administrators may want to keep a student in school instead of addressing their healthcare needs. Your interests and objectives as a healthcare provider may not always align with the rest of the school. You’ll have to take a backseat to whatever the parents and school administrator recommend.

In many situations, all you can do is talk to the school administrator or the student’s parents and make a recommendation, but it’s up to the parents to decide how to proceed. They may refuse to follow your advice and keep their child in school or forgo more advanced medical treatment all together. Again, there is little you can do in these situations. As a school nurse, you are not responsible for overseeing every aspect of a student’s medical care.

Working in Isolation

Another ethical issue that comes with being a school nurse is the fact that you’ll be working in relative isolation compared to a traditional healthcare environment. You will no longer be able to depend on the advice and support of your colleagues. In many cases, the school nurse is the only healthcare professional on campus, which can create feelings of loneliness and seclusion. The teachers and administrators at the school may have limited knowledge when it comes to healthcare, which can feel like your expertise is falling on deaf ears.

You also won’t be able to ask your colleagues for advice when dealing with complex cases. You can always try reaching out to a friend in the healthcare industry, but without the support of a healthcare facility, your former colleagues or friends will be under no obligation to provide assistance. You may have rely solely on your own instincts and expertise when providing care and making recommendations to a student or parent.

Working as a school nurse can lead to many unfamiliar, often difficult situations. Caring for a child is often left up to the parents, which means many of these cases will be out of your control. It’s your job to make the best of these situations by providing basic healthcare and offering sound advice to parents and school administrators. 

Have you worked as a school nurse? What were some of the challenges you faced?

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Zach Smith

Zach Smith

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