Sirven: School Nurses On The Front Lines Of Health Care

By Dr. Joseph Sirven
Published: Friday, August 22, 2014 - 11:33am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

It's back-to-school time, and KJZZ commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven is as anxious as the new kid in the class.

No, I don’t have a child in school but soon I’ll be sharing my wife with hundreds of kids and their parents, living the next 10 months vicariously through her with all the ups and downs of school life, which brings back my own preadolescent school day jitters. 

You see, my wife is a school nurse. Forget my obvious proud bias here and let me say, most people just don’t appreciate what a school nurse does. It's more than handing out Band-Aids or hygiene pamphlets while sending malingering students back to class. Boy, has this role changed.

Any medical condition can be seen in the school nurse office: kids with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, food allergies requiring daily and sometimes emergency medications. Other kids are going through very adult problems like chemotherapy, awaiting transplants, and need to be tube fed, catheterized or counseled about pregnancy. And someone has to handle playground emergencies like broken arms and concussions. 

Kids aren’t the only visitors to the nurse’s office. Teachers, staff and parents often stop by to get their blood pressure checked or simply ask for health advice.  

Once, I visited my wife toward the middle of a school day to drop something off. There she was, in a miniature MASH unit, surrounded by curtained-off, kid-filled cots.  

I realized then that the school nurse is the front line soldier in the health care battlefront. The first point of contact into this system. This is important because tomorrow’s health headlines are often first noticed by the school nurse,  like infection outbreaks — think flu or meningitis — or mental health issues requiring alerting of the right personnel.

Sadly, many policy makers quickly forget this role when education budgets come up for review and when there’s a shortfall.
I didn’t grow up with a school nurse when I went to school long ago, but in this day and age I'm not sure how you can go to school without one. Welcome back indeed.

Dr. Joseph Sirven is a KJZZ commentator and the Chairman of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

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