As schools across the country grapple with operating during the pandemic, school nurses find themselves in the spotlight, highlighting a problem that long predated the pandemic: the school nurse shortage.

Historically, the school nurse shortage has received less attention than the teacher shortage, yet nurses are integral to any educational organization — especially since 1 in 4 students have chronic illnesses like asthma or diabetes. A shortage of nurses means that schools may have to ask staff without medical training to dispense medication, manage allergies and asthma, monitor blood glucose levels, and handle medical emergencies.

These responsibilities and others — like educating families about staying healthy and safe, training staff, and case management for students with serious health concerns — require time and expertise, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses recommend having at least one registered nurse (RN) in every school. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 84,200 RNs are employed as school nurses: enough to staff just 64% of schools with a full-time nurse. Many nurses are responsible for covering multiple schools, or they work part-time, so only 40% of schools have a full-time registered nurse on staff. 35% have a part-time RN, and the remaining 25% do not employ one at all. There are many possible reasons for this, such as competition with healthcare facilities for nurses, as well as funding (the most-cited reason why a school does not have a school nurse on staff).

What can be done? Short of increasing budgets, schools may want to explore different staffing models, or focus on decreasing nurse turnover. If a raise is not possible, consider how to increase job satisfaction. It may help to implement more streamlined processes and systems that save time and free nurses from administrative work. Some nurses may appreciate a greater role in health education. Offering them opportunities for hands-on education also helps students and the community become healthier overall.

While solving the funding crisis may be the only long-term solution, in the meantime education leaders are having to get creative to provide the best health services possible for students.

Learn more here about the work Frontline Education is doing to improve the school nursing experience for school nurses in Texas and across the county.