For many children, school is more than just a place to learn; it’s also a place to get and stay well.
But a recent study by the National Association of School Nurses found that many children around the country do not have adequate access to the only health care provider they may encounter in their daily lives: a school nurse. And that means they are less likely to be healthy and less able to thrive in school, according to the association.
“School nursing is an investment in our children’s future,” National Association for School Nurses President Sandi Delack said in a statement. “School nurses are committed to keeping kids healthy, in school, and ready to learn.”
But in 2009, 37 states failed to meet a minimum standard that would ensure that public students have adequate access to a school nurse, according to a study released last month by the association.
The study defined failing states as those that do not provide the equivalent of at least one full-time registered nurse for every 750 “well” students—a goal that has been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With only one school nurse for every 4,836 students, Michigan had the lowest student-to-school nurse ratio in the country.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia earned passing grades. Vermont topped the list with one school nurse for every 311 students. Hawaii was not included in the study.
The association does not recommend that all public schools institute the same ratio; rather, it urges school districts to apply a needs-based formula that takes into account students with special needs to determine how many school nurses to hire.
School nurses help students manage chronic illness and stay healthy, according to the association. This helps increase attendance rates, frees parents from having to take time off of work to care for sick children, allows teachers to focus on their curriculum rather than on their students’ health needs, and reduces the number of 911 calls. School nurses also help prevent the spread of infectious diseases like the H1N1 flu virus.
Legislation that would improve the student-to-school nurse ratio is pending in Congress.