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Column: The school nurse's office - a popular place

District 518

WORTHINGTON -- There is never a dull moment in the school nurse's office at Prairie Elementary. We not only help sick kids, but also do what we can to promote keeping kids healthy. Since the beginning of this school year, Prairie's health office has already has had 2,596 ill or injured visitors; we saw 622 kids in January alone. These numbers do not include the 31 daily medications and inhalers that are administered, plus the many emergency inhalers and as needed and over-the-counter meds given each day.

Some activities that have been coordinated this year include the annual hearing and vision screening for first- and third-grade students, pre-school screening for 3-4 year olds, updating the wellness policy for the district, student influenza immunization day and increasing worksite wellness opportunities.

With the help of Minnesota West Associate Degree nursing students studying community nursing practice, we screened 20 classrooms (455 children) over two days in January. I am currently working on rescreening and getting referral letters sent to parents for the students that failed the screenings. Last year, 32 elementary students were prescribed glasses from school vision screening.

We had extremely good participation in this year's influenza immunization program in District 518, which was funded and collaborated once again by the Worthington Area Health Care Foundation, Sanford Clinic, Avera Medical Group and District 518. For the district, the total immunizations given were 1,281 which is a 44 percent vaccination rate overall. Totals by school were: Prairie Elementary 608 (54 percent), middle school 355 (46 percent), high school 211 (30 percent), ALC 15 (17 percent), St. Mary's 72 (61 percent) and Worthington Christian School 20 (35 percent). These numbers do not include the families that took their children elsewhere to be immunized. Overall, this program contributed greatly in that our district's attendance was not significantly affected during the peak of the influenza season.

Long gone are the days of the school nurse being the Band-Aid queen. Licensed school nurses like me are now part of case management teams for special education students, coordinators of care for students with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, and seizures disorders, and serve as leaders in the role of health promotion for staff and students. As the wellness coordinator for staff and students and by assisting on the district's Health and Safety Committee, I advocate for health promotion and disease prevention in our school district. There is a great deal of time spent on medication management, immunization compliance and classroom education about dental care, hand washing and personal hygiene.

Children spend much of their day in school and any illness or injury not only affects their learning potential, but also other students in the classroom and their learning ability. According to the 2012 National Association of School Nurses (NASN), school nurses influence attendance, which influences achievement and graduation rates. School nurses are an essential arm of public health promoting wellness and preventing injury, and they are crucial to children's mental health.

School nurses allow faculty and school leaders to teach and lead because they spend less time diverted from their primary job responsibilities to address student health issues. School nurses are a vital link between education and health care.