What is a School Nurse? | All You Need to Know

What is a School Nurse? | All You Need to Know

What is a School NurseSchool nurse jobs are ideal for those who wish to work in the medical field and also have a strong interest in pediatrics. A school nurse has a very different day-to-day work life than traditional nurses. Instead of being hired by a doctor or hospital, they are usually employed by a district’s board of education. Along with providing immediate medical care to the student body, a school nurse will be in charge of annual medical examinations and managing student prescriptions. Pay is competitive for school nurses and they have the advantage of becoming tenured.

What Is a School Nurse?

A school nurse is most well known for providing medical assessments, and urgent care to a student body. In addition, they handle all general medical needs for the student body which may include record-keeping to make sure students are up to date with required physicals and immunizations. Typically, school nurses will work during the days and times when school is in session and be off during the summer. Many of them begin their careers as registered nurses before making the switch. States regulate school nurses and to be considered for the position a certification examination may be required.

What does a school nurse do?

Assessment is a critical part of a school nurse’s job duties. He or she will be sent ill or injured students and be asked to determine if a higher level of care is needed. A school nurse is able to perform basic first aid on injured children and may clean and dress cuts and scrapes. To prevent the spread of contagious illnesses, they also decide if a child should be sent home and if any parent notifications are required. They are also charged with notifying social services if he or she suspects the child is being abused.

The school nurse will manage any medications that need to be administered during the school day. Furthermore, the nurse will need to know of any chronic conditions that need monitoring. He or she will be trained to administer medications to treat acute conditions such as allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

Recordkeeping is a part of a nurse’s job responsibilities and he or she will have to collect medical records from students. Nurses verify the records and notify the student’s parents of any missing documentation. For schools with athletic teams, the nurse may be in charge of performing basic physical examinations and confirming the students are in good health to participate in sports.

Nurses in school settings are expected to be proactive in maintaining a healthy environment. This may include educating students, parents, and staff on how to prevent the spread of diseases. If an outbreak occurs, the nurse must follow state guidelines for notifying parents. They may also be responsible for monitoring food items coming in and out of a school as a way to protect any children with food allergies.

Why are school nurses important?

School nurses are key for keeping all students within an academic setting safe and healthy. Certain injuries may require immediate first aid and a school nurse is needed to administer wound care. Nurses act as child advocates and help them get the medical care they need. By maintaining a safe environment within a school, the nurse is providing an essential community service. They act as health educators and teach children about food safety, allergies, hand washing, healthy habits, and much, much more.

How to Become a School Nurse

Prospective school nurses should primarily enjoy working with children. Compassionate and caring individuals will thrive in this position. Patience is definitely a required characteristic, especially when choosing to work in an elementary school. The nurse must be very organized since medical recordkeeping is part of the job tasks. School nurses must be flexible since each workday may bring a different challenge. The individual must also be able to work independently since most schools only employ a single nurse for the entire student body. A school nurse should also have the ability to teach others. He or she will likely have to explain health information to different audiences. They also may be asked to present data to parents, staff, and students to promote good health.

Education and Training

School nurses will begin by enrolling in an accredited degree program at a college or university. Most school districts will mandate that the nurse have at least a bachelor’s degree (BSN) to qualify. At the conclusion of the nursing program, the nurse will register to take the NCLEX-RN examination. If the exam is passed, licensing will be granted. To keep a nursing license current, continuing credits are needed each year.

Courses to consider before pursuing a career as a school nurse include trauma care, child abuse, sexual violence, legal responsibilities of a school nurse, and school nurse clinical practicum. Although many districts permit school nurses with a bachelor’s degree, some may ask for the nurse to obtain a master’s degree. Before applying to a school district, a nurse will likely gain field experience. He or she may work in the field of pediatrics or look for a job at a college health office.

Some states require their school nurses to have certain credentials. These states include Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, and West Virginia, each state having their own specific credentialing requirements. For instance, before a person could qualify for credentials in California, he or she has to complete a minimum number of educational credits by completing a nursing school program approved by the Commission of Teacher Credentialing. A school district may also ask that a school nurse be certified as an educator as well as a registered nurse.

To gain an advantage in the job market, a nurse will often pursue a certification in the field they wish to pursue. Each state often has a listing of recommended certified school nurse programs. For instance, New Jersey provides a directory of state-approved school nurse certification programs. After earning the certificate, the nurse will demonstrate that he or she has completed a program that details the roles and jobs of medical professionals working in a school setting. National certifications are available too through agencies like the National Board for Certification of School Nurses. The nurse will have to pass an examination to be nationally certified. Minimum requirements to take the certifying test include a bachelor’s degree in nursing and at least 1,000 clinical practice hours. To prepare for certification, the nurse will study topics related to health assessments, health promotion, disease prevention, special health problems, and nursing management.

Career Outlook

School nurses have fulfilling careers with plenty of job opportunities. Although many associate school nursing with working in a public school, the nurse could also obtain a position at the following:

  • College campuses
  • Private and alternative schools
  • Boarding schools
  • Public health agencies
  • Community centers
  • Summer camps
  • Military bases
  • Juvenile correctional facilities

Management roles are possible in the field. School nurse managers will usually hold a master’s degree or higher and be charged with supervising nursing personnel within a school district. School nurses may choose to work for a doctor’s office or hospital. Former school nurses are a good fit for job openings with a pediatric physician or in a children’s hospital.

Since the school nurse follows the school calendar, a major benefit is having time off during the summer. Unlike nurses who work in hospitals, long shifts and overnights are not a requirement. School nurses are usually only needed during the hours when children are in attendance.

Salary and Employment

The career outlook for school nurses is very positive. Job growth in all areas of nursing is projected to be at 15 percent over the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This job growth is related to the trend of emphasizing preventative medicine and the importance of community health. The median pay of a registered nurse is $71,730 per year. School nurse salaries average at $47,660, but the nurse will usually only work 10 months a year and have all holidays and school breaks off. The vacation time gives the nurse an opportunity to earn a supplemental income. For instance, a school nurse may be hired to work at a summer camp. Top paying states for school nurses are:

  • California
  • Washington DC
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • Massachusetts 

School Nurse Resources


What is a school nurse’s legal scope of practice?

Each state will have different regulations about what a school nurse can and cannot do. For instance, if the school nurse is also a nurse practitioner, they have the training to diagnose and treat health conditions. A registered nurse can assess medical conditions and provide first aid, but he or she can’t prescribe medications or diagnose a health condition.

What is required of the school nurse in emergencies?

A nurse will be involved in any emergency planning for a school district. School nurses provide risk assessments and plan responses. They are expected to know which students have special healthcare needs in case of an emergency. These children will be a nurse’s top priority. In most cases, a school nurse is not expected to provide medical care to staff.

Can an EMT work as a school nurse?

No. An EMT will not have the same training or educational background as a school nurse. An EMT has first responder training, which can be useful as a school nurse, but the EMT will need to attend a nursing degree program and become licensed as a registered nurse for job consideration.

School Nurse Organizations and Societies

Most professionals will have the opportunity to join a state-sponsored organization for school nurses. State professional organizations will give state-specific information and advertise local school nurse events and conferences. National organizations are also available. By joining a professional organization, a school nurse will have the chance to network with others in their field. Organizations provide essential resources such as online educational courses (so you can attend online nursing school), professional publications, and career advice. National school nurse associations include:

School Nurse Scholarships

Need help getting started? Take a look at our guide to financial aid and our scholarship opportunity for future healthcare professionals.

List of Nursing Programs

Where can I find the best nursing schools near me? Take a peek at our list of the best BSN degree programs in the United States!

Why should I become a school nurse?

School nurses provide an invaluable service and are always in high demand. By working in a school, the nurse may be eligible for academic tenure. With tenure, he or she has a permanent position and can’t be terminated. Additional benefits include summer vacations, holidays off, health insurance, retirement funds, and daytime schedules. Once posted to a school, most nurses remain in the position until retirement.  

RNtoBSNProgram aims to help prospective and established nurses advance their careers. Our website reviews and ranks nursing degree programs to help individuals find an educational program that fits their unique needs. Any questions about nursing careers, please feel free to reach out to one of our team members.

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