People We Can’t Do Without in an Emergency
Midwives, breastfeeding mothers, and now school nurses: They are all claimed to be indispensable when disaster strikes. Nurses are in the news because the St. Louis Public Schools laid off a fraction of its nursing staff. The Grade has the story. A warning of dire consequences can be found in the commentary quoted in the body of the post, and it’s repeated with no less alarm in the comments. Look at this comment from someone who writes under the name “a school nurse”:
The Individuals with Disabilities Act, No Child Left Behind, and the mainstreaming of students with severe physical, emotional and medical problems has drastically changed the face of school nursing. We are not the school nurses of your childhood anymore. We are highly specialized professional health care practitioners who make independent decisions that can mean life or death for some students.
Of course, there are ominous references to swine flu in some of the other comments, but I don’t want to spread the panic even further by reprinting them all.
I see a few problems with this argument. First, No Child Left Behind does not affect school nursing one way or the other. NCLB is a law that requires standardized tests. It doesn’t put sick kids in classrooms. If school nurses have more work to do because of NCLB, it’s because kids who don’t like taking tests have psychosomatic complaints — and the tests happen only once a year. Yes, I realize that wasn’t the main point of the comment, but I’m answering it because it’s wildly erroneous.
Second, if students are so ill that their lives hang in the balance, they need to be in hospitals under the care of physicians. That’s not just my personal opinion — there are regulations about which tasks that different types of nurses may perform, and how much supervision they must have. (The Missouri Board of Nursing publishes a handy guide, in case you can’t figure out whether a license permits some particular action.) School nurses do routine things like dispensing medicine. If a situation is more serious, they call for help. That was their role when you were a kid, and it’s still their role today.
Third, although schools should be prepared to respond to emergencies, the person who responds doesn’t have to be a nurse. Teachers and staff can get CPR and first aid training — and they should.