12 Back-to-School Tips for New School Nurses

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated July 28, 2022
    If you're new to being a school nurse, take advantage of these tips that can help make your first year a good one.
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    There are several ways new school nurses can prepare students to return to school in the fall. Not all preparation involves getting paperwork and organizing inventory. For some, it may include improving a skill set that will help the nurse function effectively during the year.

    Tips for Your First Year as a School Nurse

    1. Have a Plan

    “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” This expression is repeated often. Set goals for yourself and create a schedule so you accomplish those goals. Creating a plan in your head is not nearly as effective as writing out your actions, setting a time line, and sticking with it.

    A written plan is more difficult to ignore, which increases your potential for success. A written plan can also be shared with an accountability partner who can help keep you on track as the school year approaches.

    Learning how to create an action plan can be a frustrating experience if you aren’t a natural planner. Consider seeking support from more experienced staff members in the school.

    It’s also important to let go of the “all or nothing” mentality. Even if you don’t follow the plan perfectly, you have not failed. It’s all a learning experience.

    2. Communicate Proactively

    Be proactive in your communication with school staff and administration. This means anticipating the information that staff and administration may need about your students to be effective in their interactions.

    This helps keep everyone on the same page and aware of any changes or updates. Proactive communication helps build trust and loyalty with the staff and takes steps to prevent future issues.

    3. Communicate Directly

    Use concise and clear communication so everyone understands what’s being said. This may be difficult at first if you aren’t comfortable with speaking directly. It is important to mean what you say and say what you mean without indirect or hidden messages.

    Effective communication fosters collaboration and decreases confusion in the workplace. It reduces miscommunication that can lead to poor student outcomes. Consider your word choice and tone in your verbal and written communication. It’s also important to try to steer clear of medical jargon with your nonmedical colleagues.

    4. Be Respectful

    Be respectful with staff, administration, and students. This can contribute to a harmonious environment and supports collaboration. Respect is the glue that can hold relationships together and can encourage unity with the staff and students.

    People who are respected will treat you with respect. When a person feels respected, they listen better, trust more, and feel safe. Showing and practicing respect allows you to have better connections, which allows you to have a greater impact on the lives of your students.

    5. Stay Updated

    Stay up to date on health and safety information from your state board of health and your school board recommendations. You may feel like you’re just treading water in the middle of your first school year as a school nurse. Use your plan to create a checklist of items that you must routinely monitor.

    This includes the health and safety information from the state board of health, new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and action plans from the National Association of School Nurses.

    6. Stay Plugged In to the Student Body

    School nurses are on the front lines, listening, hearing, and intervening when students need physical, emotional, or mental help. Be prepared to deal with student bullying, shaming, and harassment. The school nurse can be instrumental in preventing students from self-harming or suicide, which can result from bullying and shaming.

    School nurses should be attentive to student behavior that indicates they are the target of someone’s inappropriate behavior. One out of every five students report being bullied. More male students are physically bullied, and more female students are the subject of rumors.

    One in five also report being cyberbullied. Being bullied increases the risk of depression, lower academic achievement, and physical and mental health problems.

    7. Make Life Easier for Substitute Nurses

    There will be days when you must stay home sick or want to attend an all-day conference. If you can’t be at school, the district will likely send a substitute nurse. Make their life a little easier by keeping a substitute nurse book.

    Include the correct contact information for support staff, where forms are located, students who receive medication, and any standing orders. If your school district allows you to organize the office the way that you see fit, be sure every cabinet and drawer is labeled so the substitute doesn’t waste valuable time searching for the right paperwork or supplies in an emergency.

    8. Form Relationships With Caregivers

    The beginning of the school year is a perfect time to form a strong working relationship with students’ caregivers and healthcare providers. Reach out to families and healthcare providers for students with health needs that need attention.

    Work together on a plan for the school year that addresses their unique needs. Check your school policies to see if you need permission from the parents or guardians to contact healthcare providers or if permission was included in the school admission forms.

    Establishing a strong and mutually respectful relationship at the start of the school year opens the door for you to advocate for the student with their caregivers or healthcare provider if the need arises.

    9. Keep Medication Safe

    The school nurse is responsible for keeping students’ medications safe from prying hands. Take the time to routinely check the locks on the medication storage unit. Look for evidence that someone was trying to break the lock and ensure the lock still works.

    The student’s medications are yours to guard from students or teachers who may want a medication that doesn’t belong to them. The school should also have a policy that covers how student medications are stored in the building.

    10. Be Prepared to Give Regular Screenings

    School nurses are expected to administer mandated health screenings, such as eye and hearing screenings. You should know the grade-appropriate screenings that are needed for your student population.

    Become familiar with the equipment before the start of the school year. This can include the eye chart or audiometer. If needed, practice with one or two of the staff members so you are adept at the procedure with your first student.

    11. Identify Students With Ongoing Medical Needs

    In the week before students arrive, review their medical charts and identify students who need consistent follow-up. Do not count on your memory. Instead, create a list of those students and the type of follow-up needed.

    For example, you may have students who have asthma, diabetes, or seizures. They may require regular administration of medication during the school day in much the same way a hospitalized patient requires medication at the right time.

    12. Know Your Staff’s Abilities

    Before students return to school, it’s a good idea to survey the staff so you are aware of those who have any medical training or certifications. Knowing the staff who are certified in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or who were once certified nursing assistants can be helpful in case of an emergency.

    As you get to know the staff during the beginning of the year, you’ll also want to identify those individuals who are calm during an emergency and do not come unglued. While some states mandate that teachers are CPR certified, not all can perform well when there is a true emergency.