Working in a school is one of the most satisfying ways one can spend their time as a family nurse practitioner. It allows them to engage with young people who are learning about their health needs for the first time and get them into good habits which will help them to live long and healthy lives.
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are there for these young people in moments of crisis and their presence will ease parents’ worries. They also help those with chronic ailments to participate as fully as possible in school life and provide colleagues with the information and support they need to keep children in their classes safe. This article is designed to give them a fuller understanding of the type of work involved in this.
Delivering preventative healthcare
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One of the most important aspects of a school nurse’s job is to provide health education. This includes fundamentals like explaining the importance of hand washing, dental hygiene and changing dressings on minor injuries, along with age-appropriate sex education, which begins with simply teaching that nobody should be touching anybody else’s body in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
School nurses also teach about healthy eating and make sure that children get appropriate support — which might involve talking to child services or referring them to the school counselor if they seem to be eating too little. In addition to this, they are responsible for making sure that every child has received mandatory vaccines promptly, unless they have legitimate individual exemptions.
Carrying out health screening
Certain types of health screenings are vital in schools because children represent a major vector of infection, presenting a risk to the wider population. The way they are concentrated in classrooms and their tendency to have a lot of physical contact with one another mean that infections can spread rapidly between them.
Family nurse practitioners in schools aim to keep track of head lice and verrucas, which can easily become endemic, prescribing treatments where necessary. In the case of more dangerous outbreaks of disease, they are responsible for identifying which children are affected and who they are likely to have been in contact with, as well as drawing up symptom lists for teachers and parents to be aware of.
Responding to accidents
Children tend to be much more physical in everything they do than adults, so inevitably, accidents occur. These are also a risk in school sports, and sometimes, despite the best efforts of school authorities, children are injured as a result of bullying. School nurse practitioners need to be ready for every such eventually.
In this role, FNPs are responsible for assessing the extent of injuries and determining when additional help, such as a trip to the hospital, is needed. They clean and dress minor wounds, soothe bruises and treat strains and sprains, ensuring that students (or their parents or guardians, if they are very young) understand what they need to do to facilitate the healing process.
Not all parents take their children for medical check-ups as often as they should, and most have no training in identifying the symptoms of any but the most common illnesses. In some cases, for all sorts of different reasons, children may hesitate to tell their parents when they are feeling unwell. This means that school nurses are often the first people to identify illnesses, either because they have seen the symptoms directly or because a teacher has expressed concern.
In most cases, providing treatment will require talking to a parent or guardian, but this is where family nurse practitioners can use their training in negotiation and reassurance, addressing students’ concerns and averting family strife or alleviating unnecessary worry.
Supporting children with chronic illnesses
Children with chronic illnesses often need additional support during the school day. If they have prescription medication, it should not be kept on their person, where other students could get hold of it. Instead, arrangements should be made for them to visit the school nurse when they need to take it, where it can be kept safe.
Exceptions can be made for things like inhalers and epi-pens, which need to be used immediately in order to be effective and should therefore be in the hands of the teacher taking each class. In such cases, nurses must train teachers to operate them properly and make sure they know what to do afterwards. They are responsible for ensuring that children have access to any necessary disability aids, and providing a safe, quiet space for things like breathing exercises.
Providing advice to other staff members
Wherever health issues arise within a school, the nurse practitioner is there as a source of advice. This can be anything from managing outbreaks of infectious disease to explaining how to safely assist a disabled child, providing dietary advice to canteen staff or ensuring that students stay properly hydrated in hot weather.
With such a wide ranging remit, one might expect that it would take many years to become an FNP, but in fact RNs can qualify through Carson-Newman University in under three years, and taking classes online means it is possible to be active in another nursing job while doing it. This makes it a very attractive option for nurses who want to move into community-focused roles where they can really get to know the people they are helping.
Providing advice to families
As well as working with students themselves, family nurse practitioners based in schools often engage with their parents or guardians, helping to support the family. They provide health advice, recognizing that most healthcare education takes place within the family unit, and they help family members to understand health problems affecting children and provide the right support with treatment.
They can also help to facilitate conversations when another family member has an illness or disability, putting it into age-appropriate terms and helping children to understand what it means. They can engage with social workers to tackle underlying problems which contribute to poor overall family health or risk negatively affecting children’s health.
For these reasons, the role of the family nurse practitioner within schools is essential to the wellbeing of young people and their overall health education.