Chief Health & Wellbeing Officers’ in Schools School Nurses

Supporting Healthy Bodies & Minds in School

Let’s all take a moment to think back to the days that we spent in elementary or high school. What are some of the most memorable moments you recall? Does a certain event or subject pop into your mind? It only takes a moment for the memory of a school nurse, Ms. Lumley, to come to mind. She was the most engaging adult within those ‘walls of learning’ as a health educator, who brought to life how we were growing and developing as young people, as well as ways to keep us feeling safe, happy, and healthy.

Recalling weeks of having to suffer through not feeling well and eventually being told that the tonsils must come out. The fear of hearing this news was overwhelming and the subsequent anxiety it caused was unbearable at times. It was Ms. Lumley who offered comforting words and explained what tonsils were, along with the ‘simple procedure’ which was going to take place. The amazing ‘takeaway’ in reducing fear/anxiety was the mention of endless amounts of ice-cream for ‘medicine’ in the recovery process. However, it was our school nurse, Ms. Lumley, along with others, that ensured the school environment was conducive to learning.

What does a school nurse do within our schools? A more succinct question may be, What is school nursing? Since the mindset is still within ‘days of old’, here is the Wikipedia definition of school nursing:

School nursing, a specialized practice of public health nursing, protects and promotes student health, facilitates normal development, and advances academic success. School nurses, grounded in ethical and evidence-based practice, bridge the gap between health care and education, provide care coordination, advocate for quality student-centered care, and collaborate to design systems that allow individuals and communities to develop their full potentials. A school nurse works with school-aged children in the educational setting. Students experiencing illness or injury during the school day often report to the school nurse for assessment. Administering routine medications, caring for a child with a virus, or stabilizing a child until emergency services arrive after a more serious injury may all be a part of the job requirements. School nurses are well positioned to take the lead for the school system in partnering with school physicians, community physicians, and community organizations (Wikipedia, 2022)

Chief Health & Wellbeing Officers in (Some) Schools

It is very telling that within the definition of school nursing it stated, ‘School nurses are well positioned to take the lead for the school system’ in leading coordination efforts for ‘partnering with school physicians, community physicians and community organizations.’ This definition clearly corroborates that school nurses are the qualified professionals to effectively lead in their role as ‘Chief Health & Wellbeing Officer’ within the school system.

Opeeka was honored to have as a guest on their Innovation in Care Collaboration podcast series, Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN (aka The Relentless School Nurse). Robin has led the charge for many years advocating for school nurses and the essential role they fulfill within schools, communities, and society at large. It was shocking to learn that 25% of schools in the US do not have school nurses and 35% of schools only have school nurses on a part-time basis. Take a moment to digest this shocking fact, 60% of schools throughout the country either do not have a school nurse or only have them minimally.

It is important to understand data within context. There are approximately 98,000 public school districts in the United States, with 66,000 elementary schools and 32,000 high schools. It was shocking to hear the student to school nurse ratio- 56,000,000 student compared to 96,000 school nurses. This equates to 583 students to every school nurse, but only in cases where there is a school nurse available. Let us digest this data for a moment and focus on what happens when there are students in need of medication monitoring, have allergies, flu/virus outbreaks (including pre-pandemic) other medical conditions, not to mention life-threatening injuries and there is no medical professional on the premises.

URGENT Need: School Environments Safe & Healthy for Learning

I urge every reader to take a deeper dive into the advocacy work of Robin Cogan, to immediately gain a clear understanding of the critical role school nurses fulfill to advocate for health and safety protocols, inside and outside of schools. As ‘Chief Health & Wellbeing Officers’ school nurses serve well beyond keeping our young people ‘safe & healthy’ in schools. They serve as health and wellbeing advocates for all school personnel (teachers, administrators, and staff). School Nurses also serve as community medical liaison, within communities: including homes, places of worship, and recreational/school activities.

In her recent Blog, ‘The Relentless School Nurse’ issued a stark warning for the 2022-2023 School Year in the attempt to prevent the inevitable ‘free-for-all’ if we do not make significant changes. She used the term free-for-all, to describe what is going to be ‘chaos’ given the lack of comprehensive national mitigation strategies developed with data-driven policies, especially in response to the continuing COVID pandemic. One strategy to mitigate challenges would be to require every school district to use the same reporting and data systems for school health services. This shift would allow for coordination of care by all healthcare providers who are inside and outside of the school; including medical, behavioral, psychological and recovery services.

We at Opeeka are aligned with supporting ‘universal data collection’, judiciously sharing information in support of ‘real-time’ whole person-centered care collaboration. The more Robin spoke about moving schools into the 21st Century with the ability to secure solutions in meeting these data challenges could be found in our Person-Centered Intelligence Solutions (P-CIS|pronounced pieces). Further conversations need to take place among the school medical professionals, especially school nurses who are ‘Chief Health & Wellbeing Officers’ within the schools, to develop sustainable solutions. It is time to make these investments to keep our students, educational personnel, and staff healthy and safe. Let us take the first step in fulfilling the mission of School Nurses, allowing them to take the lead in partnering with communities today.

Robin Cogan is a Registered Nurse and a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 22nd year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards including The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research non-profit organization and the National Board of Certification for School Nurses (NBCSN). Robin is the Legislative Chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow and past Program Mentor. She has been recognized in her home state of New Jersey and nationally for her community-based initiative called “The Community Café: A Conversation That Matters.”

Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include 2021 – Fellow in The American Academy of Nursing; 2019 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) President’s Award; 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year; 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year; and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for Part-time Faculty. Robin writes a weekly blog called The Relentless School Nurse. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobinCogan.