EDITORIAL: Shortage of nurses unfairly impedes on education

Teachers throughout the nation should add “school nurse” to their resumes, as medical duties are increasingly becoming a regular part of their jobs.

The additional responsibilities are a result of increased workloads for school nurses combined with widespread cuts in nursing staffs and more frequent incidences of serious health conditions among students, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Pushing medical duties on teachers who are generally untrained in health care because of a scarcity of school nurses is not only irresponsible, it consumes valuable teaching time and hinders learning.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) reports that the average national nurse-student ratio is 1-1151 – more than one and a half times the federal recommendation of 1-750. It also reports that the average school nurse splits work time between 2.2 schools and 25 percent of schools do not even have nurses.

The paltry number of trained nurses available to assist students is unacceptable, especially given that 16 percent of U.S. students have medical conditions that require regular attention from a school nurse, said Executive Director of the NASN Amy Garcia.

While some teachers may have a background in nursing, the vast majority is not equipped to perform the duties of a professional nurse or to deal with students’ serious medical conditions. Schools that thrust unexpected medical responsibilities on unqualified individuals and do not have school nurses on hand to respond to emergencies run the risk of endangering students’ health.

Additionally, the more time teachers have to spend attending to students’ medical needs, the less time they have to interact with students in an educational capacity.

The Post recounted the story of a kindergarten and fifth-grade teacher in North Carolina, Julia Keyse, who asks her students every day to wait while she helps a diabetic student prick her finger and adjust her insulin pump. While Keyse’s ritual is noble and demonstrates compassion for her student, it is also an example of the interruptive nature of imposing medical duties on teachers.

“Teachers deserve a school nurse because their time should be spent teaching,” Garcia told the Post.

Concordantly, students deserve a teacher who can dedicate all of his or her time in the classroom to helping them learn and grow. The role of teachers, after all, is to teach, not baby-sit or oversee students’ health needs.

Of course, all teachers should be perceptive to the well-being of their students. However, it is not the job of educators to replace nurses at the expense of student learning. Schools must clearly communicate the appropriate course of action to all teachers in the case of medical emergencies – of which medical professionals must play a part.