School nurses at Walton County schools are in place to deal with whatever medical issue a student may have at school, but more and more they are the first connection between health care and an ill or injured student.
Walton County School District spokeswoman Callen Moore compiled written responses from Cheryl Tillman, the Walton County School District lead nurse, and school nurses Kathy Traylor, from Loganville Middle School, and Taylor Parker, from Sharon Middle School, on the role of school nurses and how it has changed in recent years.
Tillman, who has worked in schools for 18 years, said there is more red tape in caring for a child at school than when she started in the field. However, the care a student will receive is the same.
“One thing that has not changed is the amount of love and care our school nurses give students,” she said. “Each student in the Walton County School District is valued and cared for individually.”
The care some children require has become more involved, though. Children with serious illness or injuries who a generation ago may have been educated from home are now kept in school.
Those students often need care, and the school nurse is the first-line of attack in those cases.
“Today there are more medically fragile children with complex medical issues attending school,” Tillman said.
“We have students with feeding tubes and tracheostomies who receive care at school. I have also seen a higher number of diabetic students that are seen by school nurses sometimes two and three times a day.
“We also see the number of students with food allergies and asthma increase each year. All of these changes result in an increased workload for school nurses every year.”
Those students, along with students needing basic care, require red tape beyond what once was produced.
“Over the past 18 years, the amount of required paperwork and forms that coincide with each medical diagnosis has increased as well.” she said. “Today’s school nurses often spend less time tending to minor issues and more time dealing with medically complex issues.”
For a child that is uninsured or just doesn’t have a pediatrician, the family may see the school nurse as the health care provider. The nurses in their joint comments acknowledged that is the case, but said there is only so much they can do.
“School nurses are sometimes perceived to be able to serve as a child’s primary care provider, but nurses work with each child and family to provide what care is possible for them at school,” they said. “Nurses do not diagnose illnesses but will recommend and provide resources for parents. Nurses may also refer a parent to school social workers for assistance. Nurses work with the local health department and provide education on a variety of illnesses.”
Still, a trip to the school nurse can keep a student in school for the day and maybe save a trip to the doctor’s office.
A typical day for a school nurse, if there is any such thing as a typical day for a school nurse, might include up to 80 visits by students with minor or chronic illnesses and bumps and bruises.
Sometimes, more serious issues present themselves. Sprained or dislocated joints or even broken bones present themselves sometimes.
Nurses also help plan and conduct various health screenings at their schools.
Sometimes, usually during flu or pollen season, the number of students who visit the school nurse can double.
School nurses, like many parts of the educational system, try to get the job done with limited resources.
Walton puts a nurse in every school, but sometimes those nurses do more than provide direct care. Nurses say administrative help is needed for the forms that must be completed and maintained. Substitute nurses are always in short supply.