Have you ever considered working as a school nurse and curious about school nurse qualifications and salary? If you have a passion for children and enjoy working independently, this information can serve as a helpful school nurse career guide.
What is a school nurse?
School nurses are essential to keep their small charges healthy and safe while at school.
Having a certified school nurse on duty ensures that the students will be expertly tended to when day-to-day illnesses and injuries occur in school. For children with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma, a school nurse is vital to keep them well while they learn.
School nurse job description
As a school nurse, you may be assigned to one or several schools. Although many school nurses are solo in their clinic, your role may include supervising other nurses, aides, and support personnel. Each state and school district operates differently according to their needs. School nurses work in private, public, and boarding schools.
The job duties of a school nurse go beyond that of just applying band-aids and tending to skinned knees. Although plenty of fractured arms and contusions occur on playgrounds and sports fields that need attention, the role of a school nurse is more complex and transcends typical nurse duties.
In addition to administering daily and emergency medication and nursing sick and injured children, school nurses work closely with parents, teachers, administration, and the wider community to ensure that all aspects of the school environment are safe.
This means that school nurses are involved behind the scenes in many aspects of everyday school life, such as emergency and disaster planning, playground design and rules, food and event decisions, and mental health services.
Children with special needs and complex health conditions are integrated into every school. It’s common for kids with cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, seizure disorders, and even those on ventilators to be in public and private schools. Tube feedings, PICC line care, daily catheterizations, and tracheostomy care are just a few of the specialized clinical procedures a school nurse may perform.
The RN serves as a student advocate to ensure that all staff members know a child’s health condition and how to handle the daily accommodations necessary to keep the student safe and functioning to the best of their ability.
A school nurse is also frequently involved in health education. These RNs may be asked to supplement classroom teaching on topics such as first aid and CPR, smoking and drug use, human sexuality, AIDS, and STD education. In addition, each nurse encounter with a student, parent, or staff member can serve as an opportunity to educate on health and safety issues.
School nurses are essential in helping students understand newly diagnosed conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and cancer. In these instances, most school nurses develop close relationships with these vulnerable students and their parents. The nurse’s influence can also help ease the frustration and fear associated with a life-threatening diagnosis.
Other duties of a school nurse may include:
- Health record and immunization tracking and maintenance
- Administration of immunizations
- Mandated health screening such as height and weight, vision and hearing testing, and scoliosis measurement
- Sports physicals
- Substance abuse screening
- Disease management such as COVID tracking and headlice identification and guidance
- Referral (and follow-up) for medical, substance abuse, and psychological issues
- Specialized programs such as those for pregnant students
- Social service tasks such as food and clothing drives, holiday meals for needy families, and providing resources to parents when needed
- Emotional support to students (and staff)
This list of job duties of a school nurse is not inclusive. Just when you think that you’ve experienced it all in school nursing, something new and unexpected will surprise you. There’s never a dull moment for a school nurse.
Qualifications of a school nurse
States differ on the qualifications for a school nurse. However, most states require (or prefer) that a school nurse be BSN-prepared and hold a school nurse certification. Check with your state board of education to find out what is required to be hired as a school nurse.
To be school nurse certified, you can accomplish this goal in two ways. There is a national school nurse certification, where you prepare for the test and take an exam. You will be deemed a nationally certified school nurse if you pass this standardized exam. Before taking this test, you should have a few years of nursing experience, particularly in peds.
You can also take advanced nursing courses to receive your school nurse certification. Many states outline what courses are required to become a certified school nurse. These include pediatric physical assessment, counseling and child psychiatry courses, and a class on state health mandates.
The final requirement is a clinical practicum in a school health clinic at the elementary and secondary levels. Nurses who pursue this avenue are well-rounded and prepared for a career as a school nurse.
School nurse salary and benefits
According to current information from various salary resources, the average national salary of a school nurse can range from $40,000-$90,000 annually. This pay varies widely from state to state and based on years of experience.
School nurses generally report making less than nurses working in the hospital setting, however. In our 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report, the median nurse salary in 2021 was $78,000 for RNs, $120,000 for APRNs, and $48,000 for LPNs/LVNs. Most of the salary respondents were employed by hospitals.
To balance the salary difference with more traditional nursing roles, school nurses have some specific perks. With summer and holiday weeks off, the benefits of a school nurse are worthwhile. In addition to health insurance, many schools offer retirement pensions, an increasingly rare benefit. Most schools also include tuition reimbursement in their compensation package. With summer and holiday weeks off, the benefits of a school nurse are certainly worthwhile.
If you’re interested in becoming a school nurse, contact your state board of nursing for further guidance on becoming a school nurse. It’s also worthwhile to investigate your state board of education for specific school nurse job qualifications. The NASN also provides detailed guidance on how to become a certified school nurse.
For more information on school nurse CEUs and requirements, consider this resource to learn more about education topics and offerings.
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