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K-12 educator recognition program, LifeChanger of the Year, has announced that its 2021 Fall Spotlight Award will honor School Nurses. Source: NLG

The role of the school nurse has expanded exponentially since March 2020. While there’s no doubt that these employees have always played a critical role in the school, now more than ever their role requires Herculean effort; their impact is LifeChanging, likely even life-saving.

As a mother to an elementary-aged student, my experience with our school’s nurse has been frequent, but always minor if not comical. My son visits our school nurse’s office regularly, possibly even several times a day. Outside of his daily medicine routine, he’s generally looking for a place to lay down briefly—potentially avoiding a low-preferential activity—a Band Aid for a bruise or even a piece of candy.

The nurse’s office is one of his safe havens. I’m sure he’s not the only student who enjoys eating up the school nurse’s valuable time for an icepack, some attention or a treat. His needs have always been met with complete compassion and patience, despite the sheer volume of students to care for.

The typical responsibilities of these vital school employees have not lessened one bit over the last year and a half. In this public health role, they are still there to care for the physical, mental and emotional (yes, mental and emotional, too) wellbeing of the student population.

One significant challenge has been how they do this. Not only is the physical and mental wellbeing of students more at risk during a pandemic, but monitoring students and coordinating care becomes even more difficult when students are not present.

Challenge number two? Add COVID testing and contact-tracing to the list. The idea of being responsible for testing and contact-tracing is enough to make my head spin.

Next up: education, protocol change and training for staff and students. Many of the traditional nurse offices needed to be altered to allow for more space as well as room for testing and potential isolation.

School nurses continue to be responsible for scrutinizing how things are done within the entire school, not just their space, and recommending and implementing changes based on the newest guidelines. That means they have to stay on top of the news consistently with a hawk eye on the ever-changing COVID landscape.

As information disseminators, the role of school nurse has naturally needed to expand outside of its traditional role and overflow into a key leadership position within the school in which they educate and train other staff, too.

And when the time comes for vaccines to be administered to students, schools will become host sites, if they have not already done so. These LifeChangers will be on the front line, as they always have been, rolling up their sleeves and doing what it takes to keep the school community safe, physically, mentally and emotionally, whether that be a COVID-test or a “Lifesaver” candy.

Thank you, school nurses, – you are critical. And we’d be lost without you.

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