Back-to-School Toolkit for School Nurses

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated July 21, 2022
    Whether you're a seasoned school nurse or it's your first year, these tips can help make the year run more smoothly.
    Featured Image

    School nurses promote the well-being of students and help them begin lifelong habits that support optimal health and wellness. They work closely with school staff, students, and administration to develop a healthy environment where students can thrive.

    The first day at school may feel overwhelming for a new school nurse. They are working independently to intervene in potential health problems, providing case management services, and collaborating with others to build students’ self-learning, self-management, and adaptation.

    As the new school year fast approaches, we asked an experienced school nurse for the tips and tricks she uses to make the start of the year go as smoothly as possible. You might imagine that getting and staying organized is essential. But this is only one of the ways that makes her job easier.

    How to Prepare for the New School Year

    Preparing for the new school year may be daunting, especially if it’s the first time you’re doing it. Every school day, you must be prepared to deal with challenges for the students, staff, and parents or guardians.

    For instance, students may have health issues, from injuries to chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes, or seizures. School nurses can identify health problems that may have otherwise gone unnoticed and steer students and their parents or guardians to the appropriate treatment.

    They also provide complex care planning and communicable disease surveillance. COVID-19 has created further challenges for the school nurse. While children without any underlying disease have a low risk of severe illness, any illness that interrupts their education for a couple of weeks can lead to problems catching up with their peers.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened awareness of the dangers of viral transmission in the school system. In years past, flu outbreaks also led to many absent students. This either meant students missed out on their education, or the whole class was behind when the majority was sick.

    School nurses are perfectly placed to educate students and staff about how communicable viruses are transmitted. They can also monitor student health to help reduce the spread of infections.

    COVID-19 will continue to crop up in schools, as does the common cold or flu. But with early intervention and treatment, students who get COVID-19 can return to their normal activities after they recover.

    School nurses have a lot to do before students come back to school. Some find it helpful to develop a checklist that can be changed each year as they develop new or better ways of preparing for the incoming students. Here are 12 tips for new school nurses in their first year.

    It’s important to keep in mind that some school districts have set rules about how the office should be set up for students. Other schools or districts allow the school nurse to organize it as they see fit.

    Anticipation and Preparation Are Key

    School nurses typically begin preparing the week before students arrive to start the new year. Anticipation and preparation are key to having a successful school year. It helps the school nurse avoid playing catch up.

    New nurses may need a little extra time to prepare for the new incoming class of students. Your state association of school nurses and the National Association of School Nurses have resources for both new and seasoned school nurses.

    Alissa Pinnock began her nursing career in obstetrics and family medicine. Today, she’s a school nurse passionate about caring for the children in her community. She attends several meetings before students return to school to learn about any changes that happened over the summer and new challenges the school administration anticipates.

    “We also use this time to organize the clinic and replenish our inventory so that we are prepared for the first day of school and not scrambling around searching for things,” she says.

    She recommends that school nurses spend the first weeks getting to know students and building healthy relationships with them. When students recognize the clinic as a safe space to talk, the school nurse has a greater opportunity to intervene in difficult situations.

    Pinnock also recommends that school nurses and staff work together as a team to help students succeed. School nurses have common duties that include:

    • Monitoring students’ immunization status
    • Administering any medications that the healthcare provider orders
    • Reviewing students’ health records

    Additionally, when students are attending school remotely, school nurses do a lot of outreach via telephone and video.

    “It was our responsibility to make sure students were still up to date with their immunizations and conduct brief health assessments,” Pinnock says.

    Before students come back to school, the nurse is responsible for ensuring the clinic is stocked with the right supplies and are not out of date. The nurse is likely a part of a team responsible for creating and carrying out health and safety policies and offering training to the staff and students.

    Part of anticipating and preparing for the year is recognizing that there will be difficult situations with students, staff, or parents and guardians. Preparing how you will address them helps keep you from being off balance.

    Pinnock recommends:

    • checkRemain nonjudgmental with each student. You may not know their home circumstances and what they endure each day.
    • checkStay calm and listen to both the student and their parents or guardians. When it’s necessary, get support from other professionals or staff.
    • checkBe a listening ear for students. Sometimes they just want to talk. School and life can be stressful and being heard can make them feel valued.
    • checkRemember you don’t have to handle a difficult situation on your own. Work together as a team with the healthcare provider, behavioral health, or the site administrator.
    • checkEstablish relationships with key personnel before a challenging situation arises. These relationships help you effectively collaborate and communicate throughout the year.
    • checkKnow the school’s policies before you need them. In the middle of a difficult situation with a parent or guardian is not the time to pull out the manual to check to see how the school wants you to handle it.

    5 Ways for School Nurses to Stay Organized

    Organization is one key to success in any field. Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation, electrician, school nurse, parent, or guardian, staying organized improves your productivity, creativity, and can lead to greater success.

    1 Organize Inventory

    Pinnock recognizes that everyone has an organizational system that seems to work for them. She warns that it is crucial school nurses incorporate organizing the inventory so items with earlier expiration dates are used first or can easily be removed once they are expired.

    2 Label Everything

    If the school district allows the nurse to organize the office and clinic independently, then Pinnock suggests, “Also label everything! If ever someone has to cover your site when you are out, they won’t have to go searching.”

    3 Document Student Interactions

    School nurses must document their interactions with students. This often involves many forms that differentiate whether the nurse had a conversation, gave medication, or treated an injury. Pinnock says to keep copies of all your forms in a binder, so there will always be a form available when you need it.

    4 Prepare for Sick Students

    Part of organizing is being prepared for sick students and emergencies. This may be a little overwhelming for new school nurses who are not yet comfortable working in an independent environment.

    School nurses should have a plan in place for students who get sick or how to handle a crisis. This includes having the necessary supplies on hand where they can be accessed quickly and efficiently.

    5 Prepare for Emergencies

    School nurses should also play a role in organizing the school’s response to a traumatic event, such as an active shooter. This includes the medical response to treat injured students and the emotional and psychological support for students and staff in the aftermath of the traumatic event.

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Alissa Pinnock, LPN

    Alissa Pinnock, LPN

    Alissa Pinnock started her journey to become a nurse in 2016 at Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services in New York and currently works at the Montefiore School Health Program. She has experience working in OB/GYN, family medicine, and now works in pediatrics as a school nurse.