How to Become a School Nurse

Ayana Dunn, RN
Updated May 7, 2024
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Explore how to become a school nurse, the licensure and certification requirements, and the jobs available for those who pursue this specialty.
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School nurses address the health needs of student populations, from kindergarten to university. Unlike nurses employed at medical facilities, school nurses must juggle their departmental needs with those of their non-healthcare employers.

Learn more about how to become a school nurse, such as job duties, required education, and work settings.

How Long to Become:
3-6 years

Degree Required:

Optional Certification:
Nationally Certified School Nurse

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What Is a School Nurse?

A school nurse provides first aid, health education, preventative care, and other services unique to the student population. They ensure school medical records are up to date and contact parents and healthcare providers for more information if necessary.

School nurses have a significant impact on student lives. For example, they often provide emotional support or contact authorities when they find signs of negligence or abuse. They advocate for students who need glasses, hearing aids, and other accommodations for learning impediments. School nurses also provide care for medical conditions, such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, and allergies, so students can attend school. They help test blood glucose levels, administer insulin, and know when and how to administer epinephrine.

Duties vary based on the student body’s age range. For example, nurses working with young children may assist with toileting and handwashing. School nurses employed at high schools may provide education on eating disorders or sexual health.

Steps to Becoming a School Nurse

You must earn your nursing degree and license, then gain experience as a pediatric nurse. Some schools may accept applicants without pediatric experience, but most prefer nurses who have already worked with children. Employers often require a basic life support (BLS) certification, while some require advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification.

While earning a school nurse certification isn’t necessary, certified school nurses can access more opportunities and higher salaries. Getting certified also comes with more responsibilities, like increased administrative work.

  1. 1

    Earn an ADN or BSN Degree From an Accredited Program:

    An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) is the minimum educational requirement to practice. Full-time programs last for two years, while part-time students take longer. Although nurses with ADNs may be hired by some schools, most employers prefer nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

    Traditional, full-time BSN programs take four years to complete. Part-time students and those who earn their ADN first and then enroll in RN-to-BSN programs take longer. School nurse certification requires a BSN.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX to Receive RN Licensure

    After earning an ADN or a BSN, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become eligible for a nursing license.

    The exam requires nurses to apply their knowledge to practical medical scenarios. It comprises four parts: safety and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Pediatric Nursing

    Most schools prefer nurses with 1-2 years of clinical experience prior to employment. Gaining hands-on experience as an RN helps build skills in caring for pediatric patients and prepares nurses for a school-based role.

    To gain experience, RNs should work in settings that allow them to interact with children, focusing on the age group that interests them the most. Therefore, looking for pediatric placements as an RN provides nurses with the background needed to fulfill the school nurse role. Nurses may also gain necessary experience from public health or community health positions, since they are often employed by the county’s public health board.

  4. 4

    Consider Becoming a Certified School Nurse

    Many employers and states do not require school nurses to become certified. However, pursuing certification showcases a nurse’s commitment to school nursing while highlighting their knowledge and experience.

    The National Board for Certified School Nurses (NBCSN) offers RNs the nationally certified school nurse (NCSN) certification. To become an NCSN, the NBCSN requires nurses to have an active RN license, a BSN or MSN with a school nursing concentration, 1,000 hours of clinical experience within the last three years, and a passing score on the certification exam.

    To renew an NCSN certification, applicants should submit required fees, a copy of their RN license, a passing score on the most recent certification exam, 2,000 hours of clinical practice in school nursing, and proof of employment in school health.

School Nurse Education

Becoming a school nurse typically requires a BSN because school nurses must have a BSN to become certified. However, some employers may permit applicants to hold an ADN. Therefore, most school nurses earn a BSN, gain 1-2 years of clinical experience, and become certified. School nurses may also go on to get their master of science in nursing (MSN).

ADN Degree

An ADN benefits those who want to start working in the nursing field more quickly. The shorter length also makes the program more affordable.

An associate degree is the minimum requirement to be eligible to take the NCLEX and obtain RN licensure. However, many employers prefer a BSN. If an RN with an ADN wants to pursue their BSN, they can enroll in an accelerated RN-to-BSN program.

  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate; minimum 2.0 GPA
  • Program Curriculum: Microbiology, anatomy, pharmacology, nursing principles, psychology, and clinical experiences. The program mainly focuses on clinical skills and lab training.
  • Time to Complete: Two years
  • Skills Learned: Medical terminology, legal and ethical issues in healthcare, proper measurement of a patient’s vital signs, administration of medication, and ability to assist in various medical procedures

BSN Degree

Enrolling in a BSN program is the employer-preferred route for school nurses. Beyond the fundamental nursing courses, BSN programs require students to complete general education requirements, exposing them to a broader education than their ADN counterparts. These programs work best for students willing to spend the extra time earning their bachelor’s degree and who may want to continue their education.

  • Admission Requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate; minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA; science and math prerequisite courses with a C or better; SAT or ACT scores
  • Program Curriculum: Clinical experience, community nursing, ethics, gerontology, leadership, microbiology, nursing principles, pharmacology, physiology, psychology, women’s health, pediatrics
  • Time to Complete: Four years
  • Skills Learned: Critical thinking, case management, health and wellness promotion, leadership, evidence-based practice

MSN Degree

While not required, school nurses can earn their master of science in nursing (MSN). Some programs specifically offer a master’s degree with a concentration in school nursing. To become certified in school nursing with an MSN, you must specialize in school nursing.

These programs typically offer the same MSN core curriculum focusing on individual courses geared toward school nursing. After earning an MSN, school nurses often benefit from a higher earning potential and increased employment options.

  • Admission Requirements: BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA, active RN license, and one or more years of clinical experienceProgram CurriculumAdvanced courses in physiology and pathophysiology, pharmacology and therapeutics, health assessment, and research methods; concentration courses in school nursing, such as ethics, diverse learners, mental health, and special needs
  • Time to Complete: Two years
  • Skills Learned: CPR, health promotion; adolescent care (physical and mental health); ability to develop health plans for students, monitor physical and mental developmental disabilities, administer medication, and recognize child abuse

School Nurse Licensure and Certification

School nurses must have a BSN and an active license to become certified. License renewal requirements vary by state. To ensure a successful renewal, nurses must:

  • Complete continuing education requirements.
  • Maintain an unencumbered license.
  • Meet the license renewal application deadline.

Becoming a certified school nurse isn’t necessary to work in this specialty, but it can boost your career and facilitate deeper involvement in school district affairs. To become certified, you must meet the National Board of Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN) eligibility requirements, and pass their exam.

Working as a School Nurse

Earning your BSN and having previous pediatric experience can help you successfully find a school nurse position. If not, consider including volunteer time with youth organizations in your resume, and highlight your passion for your prospective age group in your interview.

Despite their emphasis on working in education, school nurses have various facilities to choose from. Their work settings vary based on the students’ ages, such as elementary, middle school, high school, or university students. Work setting can also vary by institution type: boarding school, private school, public school, or even summer camp.

All school nurses conduct health screenings and provide first aid, except school nurses in higher education. Elementary schoolers often need more assistance with basic care, however. Middle schoolers may need education on the impacts of puberty, and high schoolers are often autonomous.

You may experience differences based on the average family income. For example, if much of the student body lives below the poverty line, you can expect to see more students due to the physical impacts of hunger.

According to Payscale from July 2023, the average annual salary for school nurses is $51,530, an average hourly salary of $31. Your earnings may vary based on your years of experience, location, certification, and facility.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a School Nurse

Earning a BSN takes at least four years. Yet, the time it takes to become a school nurse depends on your unique path. For LPNs, it may only take two years to earn your degree.

Page last reviewed on May 4, 2024

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