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Value of Nurses in Schools

School nurses fill an important — though sometimes overlooked — role in children’s education, and they can save schools and parents money. By one estimate, each dollar spent on school nurses saves about $2.20 in parents’ lost wages and teachers’ time away from class. School nurses are also in the best position to slow or stop counterproductive trends by teaching students and parents how to adopt healthier lifestyles.

The Evolving Role of School Nurses

Since the early 1900s, the role of school nurses has become increasingly sophisticated. According to Marcia Frellick, writing for Medscape, “Now, the school nurse role includes surveillance, emergency preparedness, health education, chronic disease management, and behavioral health assessment.”

The first school nurse, Lina Rogers, tended to the health of 8,671 students in four separate schools in New York City. Her efforts led to the hiring of 12 more nurses, and within one year, medical excuses decreased by 99 percent. Today, school nurses also “liaise between schools and the public health arena, facilitating immunization, obesity prevention, smoking cessation, and substance abuse and asthma education.” The role of the school nurse today is about setting and maintaining health standards through accountability while also providing a source of immediate care.

Controlling Chronic Disease

According to Role of the School Nurse in Providing School Health Service, the number of children suffering from chronic disease has increased sharply over the last 3 decades: “[The] percentage of children 6 to 11 years of age with obesity increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012.” Now, more than one-third of children are overweight or obese. This has contributed to 215,000 people under 20 years of age suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, more children have food allergies than before, with more than 5.1 percent of all children under 18 suffering from at least one allergy. Further, about 1 in every 10 school-aged children has asthma — a condition that by some estimates is responsible for about 13 million missed school days every year. Registered nurses can improve student wellness by promoting healthier diets and physical education, as well as removing unhealthy food choices from campus.

Teaching Health Literacy at School

Health illiteracy is leading to poor healthcare decisions, and parents’ dietary choices directly affect children’s eating habits. School nurses are ideally situated to inform children about their eating habits. Children can then take this information home and influence their parents’ food choices — particularly what food they provide their children. By promoting health literacy at a young age, school nurses can help stop the negative health trends affecting America today. Teaching health literacy to children to inform parents is an affordable strategy that can improve health across the country.

A school nurse improves attendance, saves money and reduces trips to the emergency room. They set the standards that drive school policy, improving dietary options and promoting physical education.

Learn more about the Arkansas State University online RN to BSN program.


Pittman, Genevra. (2014, May 19). School nurses save money: study. Reuters

Role of the School Nurse in Providing School Health Services. (n.d.). AAP News & Journals Gateway

Frellick, Marcia. (2016, May 23). AAP Calls for a Full-time Nurse in Every School. Medscape

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