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Meet a School Nurse

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated August 29, 2022
    School nursing is an attractive role that has a lot of independence and can impact both children and adults. Here's how you can meet the job requirements.
    A female Asian-American school nurse examining a young boy in her office. The nurse wears dark blue scrubs and uses a tongue depressor to examine the boy's throat.

    Have you considered how you can achieve a work-life balance while practicing nursing?

    Becoming a school nurse can help you enter nursing as a career while maintaining a stable work-life balance. Working as a school nurse can also open doors to other career opportunities. It has been a valuable role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On this page, we highlight a Q&A with Monica Reynolds, a practicing school nurse who has worked for seven years in a school system. You’ll discover what school nurses do, how much they make, and the path you can take to become a school nurse.

    Q&A With a School Nurse

    Portrait of Monica Reynolds, RN

    Monica Reynolds, RN

    Monica Reynolds, RN, has over 14 years of experience in hospital nursing and has been a school nurse for the last seven years. She received her bachelor of science in nursing in 1999. She currently is the lead nurse for her school district, working with the district COVID team to establish health and safety procedures for students and staff. She resides in Texas with her husband and their three children.

    Q: Why did you choose to become a nurse?

    My parents always wanted me to pursue a degree in medicine. Despite the encouragement, I began college as an engineering student. After a couple of years, I didn’t feel that my current path was right for me. A friend of mine shared that she was applying to the nursing program at a university in Corpus Christi.

    With some thought, I decided to change my career choice. With hundreds of applicants and only 50 spots available, I was accepted into their program. It was one of the most rewarding decisions I ever made.

    Q: What led you to pursue school nursing, specifically?

    Honestly, my family was the biggest push for me to pursue a career in school nursing. I felt it was a great opportunity to fulfill my work-life balance while still pursuing my passion and utilizing the education and skills I had obtained to care and advocate for others.

    Q: What has it been like working as a school nurse throughout COVID-19?

    It has been challenging keeping up with the fluid nature of guidance we are required to follow and implement in the school setting while dealing with the different perspectives our families have regarding this pandemic. We are working to increase understanding and alleviate fears brought to us by our staff, students, and their families.

    COVID-19 has definitely increased the workload. We are assessing more students for ill symptoms, increased our use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and added a COVID testing program to each campus clinic and an off-site at the district level. We are required to report all positive individuals to our local health department and provide weekly reporting to the state.

    We must quickly adapt to provide an environment that is safe for all students and staff to attend our campuses.

    Q: While no day is the same, what is a ‘typical’ day like for a school nurse?

    We provide direct care, assessment, and treatment to all students that become ill during the school day. We monitor students with critical health conditions and maintain all medications and treatments required to sustain their medical needs. School nurses provide vital state health screenings, refer to physicians for further care, and advocate for the promotion of the student’s mental and physical well-being.

    [and] developing individual health plans and emergency action plans for all students with critical health issues. We work closely with our teachers, counselors, and administrators to provide a holistic approach to each student’s needs.

    Q: What are some of the greatest challenges to being a school nurse?

    I feel that the greatest challenge to school nursing is being the sole medical professional on the campus. We are surrounded by an educational environment tasked with providing medical support to the students and staff we service on the campus. We must rely on our knowledge and skills to promote confidence in those entrusting us with the care of their loved ones.

    Q: And the greatest rewards of being a school nurse?

    The greatest reward has been watching our students with chronic medical conditions or mental health issues grow academically and start to self-advocate in their own care.

    Q: What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in school nursing?

    School nursing is dynamic and has its own challenges and rewards as with any area of nursing. Having a diversified background in acute nursing care would be a vital asset. Take the time to speak with a school nurse in your area. You will be surprised to find out that it is not just “ice packs and Band Aids.”

    A student’s academic success is directly impacted by their physical and mental health. School nurses play an important role in providing the care, support, and advocacy students need to fulfill their academic milestones.

    What Does a School Nurse Do?

    The National Association of School Nurses believes that every child should have access to a professional school nurse every day. The role helps bridge the gap between education and healthcare, providing comprehensive healthcare grounded in public health ideals, leadership, and care coordination.

    The role is crucial since a student’s health is directly related to their ability to learn. The school nurse addresses a student’s physical, emotional, mental, and social health needs to help support their learning goals. The number of students with acute or chronic medical conditions is growing, making a school nurse’s assessment and intervention to support academic well-being even more necessary.

    As a school nurse, your key nursing skills and responsibilities include:

    How to Become a School Nurse

    The path to becoming a school nurse is similar to becoming a registered nurse (RN). Most states require additional experience or nursing certifications to practice in the school system. The following sections cover this process.

    Students who choose nursing as a career may begin with an accredited associate degree in nursing (ADN) but will need to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to meet the requirements to work in a school system. Some start their career with an ADN, which allows them to work while completing an ADN-to-BSN online program. Some may earn a master of science in nursing (MSN), but it is not required.

    Graduates from an accredited program must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed in their state to practice. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing gives the exam and is recognized in the U.S. and Canada.

    Most school systems require their nurses to have several years of clinical experience after graduation. This helps the applicant gain the fundamental skills needed to practice in a relatively autonomous role as a school nurse.

    The National Board of Certification for School Nurses offers a nationally recognized certification. Students are eligible after completing an accredited BSN degree program, passing the NCLEX-RN, and completing 1,000 clinical hours within three years before taking the test.

    However, school services are administered at the state level, so the state where you practice may have different requirements. The National Association of School Nurses maintains affiliate chapters in each state that can help determine any additional requirements in your state.

    How Much Do School Nurses Make?

    The job outlook for candidates who choose nursing as a career is promising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 7% growth in RN jobs from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average predicted job growth. Reasons for the expected growth include a greater emphasis on preventive care and the increasing rate of chronic conditions.

    According to August 2021 data from PayScale, the average annual salary for a school nurse is $48,480. While this is below the average pay for a hospital ($66,450/year) or clinic nurse ($27.00/hour), it is important to remember that school nurses work 10 months of the year.

    This means you may have two months off each summer. You can also hold a summer job to raise your income. School nurses who have significant experience or additional credentials, such as an MSN degree, may earn a higher base salary.