The School Nurse Shortage is a Real Crisis Leaving Our Kids in Danger

School nurses shortage

There has been a lot of press over the last few years regarding the dwindling number of qualified teachers in America. Now, a new shortage is proving to be an equally difficult problem to handle. The number of school nurses has reached a critically low level according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). Even though the recommendation is that every school has at least one full-time nurse, new numbers show that less than 60% of schools are currently budgeting for that. 

While some schools are trying to make do with a part-time nurse, or sharing nurses between schools, one-fourth of America’s schools have no nurses on staff at all. Executive Director for NASN Donna Mazyck says it’s enough to consider the situation a crisis.

Students deserve what they need to be in school and ready to learn.”

-NASA Executive Director Donna Mazyck

In schools without nurses, the job ends up falling on office staff or teachers who aren’t properly qualified to handle serious situations. And being a school nurse these days is far more involved than handing out ice packs and applying band-aids – what, sadly most people think they do. There’s been an increase in the number of students suffering from chronic illnesses and allergies, and there has been an explosion in the number of identified mental health issues. All of that puts much more pressure on a nurse than there ever has been before.

So how bad is the nursing situation in America’s schools? According to NASN, the average school nurse is responsible for around 1,500 students, which is about double what it should be according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. States in New England tend to have far better rates than the rest of the country. Vermont has the best rates in the country at just 275 students per nurse. New Hampshire is a close second at 347 per nurse. 

The situation gets much worse as you head to other states, particularly in the Northwest. Montana, Oregon and California nurses deal with over 3,000 students each on average. In Michigan and Utah, that number climbs to over 4,000, making it nearly impossible to provide proper adequate care to everyone who needs it.

This epidemic is part of the reason teachers have gone on strike in states like California. In Oakland, for example, there are 37,000 students, but just 22 nurses. Several positions there remain vacant, and even when someone does get hired they’re not sticking around for long.

The new people come in, see what’s going on, and say, ‘There’s no way!’ and then they leave.”

-Oakland school nurse Liz Hurt 

So what, if anything, can be done about all of this? Currently, there are no federal laws that oversee the hiring of nurses in public schools. As always, the situation requires increased funding to schools across the board, and there is a bill that could improve that situation. The Nurse Act would give Title-I schools access to grant money that would be used to hire more nurses. Unfortunately, the bill was proposed in 2018 and no further action has been taken on it since then. 

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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