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Pros and Cons of School Nursing

What are the pros and cons of being a school nurse? In other words, “What are the positives and negatives about being a school nurse?” There are lots and lots of positives and…well…only a few “not-so-positive” things. I dare say that there is ONLY ONE NEGATIVE thing about being a school nurse. (We’ll discuss that later.)

As with any occupation, there are what we call “pros and cons.” Some jobs have an imbalance between the things that we may enjoy about it and things that we may “enjoy” less. This all has to do with personal preferences and paradigms, as well. After all, if we nurses had a dollar for every boo-hiney we stuck our finger in, we’d…well…we’d still be working for a living. But, as this picture depicts, things could always be worse:

School Nurse Double Gloving school nurse Pros and Cons of School Nursing elephant
Hope he “double gloved”

As with being a school nurse, there are those days where I go home and ask myself, “Why?” Soon I discover that for every “Why do I do this every day?” question, a “Oh, THAT’S why I do this!” answer follows. It seems that for every perceived “con” in being a school nurse, there is a “pro” to counter it. Let’s make a list:

Here’s one I hear a lot:

Con: “They don’t pay school nurses much.”

Salary.com reports, “The median annual School Nurse salary is $48,114, as of January 30, 2018, with a range usually between $38,447-$60,740; however, this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors.” If we consider the school nurse’s pay of $48,114 and compare that to salary.com’s report that a “staff nurse” makes $60,275, we find a $12,161 difference between the two fields. Is this a con? Well, maybe not.

Staff Nurse:
Staff Nurse Salary Range school nurse Pros and Cons of School Nursing staff nurse bell curve

School Nurse:

School Nurse Salary Range school nurse Pros and Cons of School Nursing school nurse bell curve

Consider the benefit of time off and an awesome work/life balance that being a school nurse provides. With 10 weeks off during the summer, 2 weeks off for Christmas, 1 week off for Thanksgiving, 1 week off for spring break and the other days “peppered” throughout the school year (we love snow days), we school nurses are at work about 9 months of the year, with weekends OFF.

This is where math comes into play. Take $48,114 and divide that by 9, then multiply that result by 12. What we get is a nice $64,112 number that may would be our salary if we worked a full 12 months. Now, add in the weekends off, the personal days, and the benefits package that many districts bless us with and…well…the perception of a “con” is definitely “balanced” by the “pro.” At work by 7:30 a.m. and home by 4:00 p.m. leaves a lot of time for my other occupation.

Con: Parents

If you are a nurse, you deal with the public during an emotional time. School nursing is no different. And if the mamma perceives her baby was not treated right, that mamma can get mad! And mad she is when she calls. Sometimes that mamma can “verbally” attack you with vulgarities that she has punished her child 100x over for using. Once a mother called me and gave me the what-for because I mentioned the Tooth Fairy and money for a tooth the child had lost, “My son, [name], came into your office today, and you pushed your [expletive] spirituality on him. That’s not your right. I am just so [let your knowledge of words not allowed in school to take over] at you right now.”

“Yes, your spirituality! Suggesting that there’s a Tooth Fairy is spreading your beliefs and spirituality, and I want you to know right now that I am [again…expletive] [another expletive demonstrating how mad she is].”

She continued, “How dare you offer money for my child’s body part.”

“Body part?” I had to ask for help with this one.

“Yes, you offered my son money for a body part. We don’t believe in the [expletive] Tooth Fairy, and we definitely don’t believe in trading money for body parts…When you offered a dollar for my son’s tooth…”

This conversation continued for a bit with the frequency of expletive tapering off to a minimum as I maintained my respect for her paradigm (it was my biggest accomplishment of the day). Apologies and forgiveness were shared, and I humbly offered this parent the number to the district office to allow her to share her grievances with the superintendent and her staff (yes, I felt they too could use a good laugh).

However, this perceived “con” has a countering “pro” that warms your heart. Within the confines of my practice and license, many parents seek my advice for certain medical conditions and concerns. I always offer my “If it were me, I would…” or “If he were my child, I would…” The parents appreciate the insight and 1:1 attention they get. The occasional “1-star-rating, Tooth-Fairy-ranting parent” are offset by the dozens and dozens of “5-star thank-yous.”

Con: Split between 3 schools (2 buildings)

I get a phone call from one of my other schools, “[Name] fell in the grass and got knocked out for a little bit.” Meanwhile, I am at my other school helping a child through a hypoglycemic episode. What to do? After getting all the information I could get, I was able to make the appropriate decision with a positive outcome, but this is not always the case. We get “information” from non-medical persons and make decision that may be 180 degrees different if we had “eyeballs” on the child. But decisions are what we are expected to make, with the personal goal of avoiding all “Why didn’t you…” questions after the fact.

However, consider the pro of having multiple schools. This past Christmas I dressed up as Santa Claus and passed out 1,100 peppermint suckers to 1,100 children. Seeing 1,100 (well, 1,099, as my anti-Tooth Fairy student doesn’t cotton much to Santa, either) smiling faces is so much nicer than seeing 500…am I right or what! Truthfully, going between the two schools can be a bit stressful, but there’s a drive-through coffee shop between my two schools, and their Americanos are to die for!

You will influence someone, and they will remember you forever…good or bad.

I can remember many of my teachers from early on to later during my school years. (We never had a school nurse at our Louisiana schools.) Aside from my ABCs and 123s, I learned a lot about life from certain teachers.

Before becoming a school nurse, I was a hospice nurse. Often, just days before the patient would die, I would ask (in a friendly, non-judgmental, and caring way) what they would have done differently. COPD patients would say, “Not smoke.” Diabetics would say, “Watch my diet.” The patients with hepatic encephalopathy (would have said if they could), “Not have drunk so much.” CHF patients would say something different. Others would have ignored the behavior that may have caused their ailment and responded with something totally unexpected. The truth of the matter is they all had something they would have done differently; we all have that “if I could go back” issue in our lives.

School nursing…especially for the elementary kiddos…offers me the opportunity to “go back in time” and plant a little influential seed to encourage them not to smoke, drink too much, do drugs, or be promiscuous, as well as to avoid 100 other poor health behaviors.

Take smoking, for example. The government’s investment on anti-smoking efforts is about $54 million per year, and yet the “coughers” still drain resources from the “coffers.” Despite the government’s $54 million influencers, there’s one influencer that trumps every cent spent toward anti-smoking. Do you want to know what that is? It’s mamma and daddy. I asked two girls the other day, “Are you going to smoke when you get older?” These 2nd– and 3rd-graders actually paused (one looked up and put her index finger on her chin in a very intellectual sorta fashion) and said, “Hummm…I’m not sure.” I asked them if their parents smoke. Both confirmed with a definitive, “Yes.”

Where does the school nurse come in? That high-five while going down the hall, that extra peppermint just for showing up to the nursing office (even more than they should have), and all the praise and welcome they feel when they “go see the nurse” builds rapport and trust. Soon, I start moving up on the child’s influence meter. Nurse Kevin doesn’t smoke…and they know this.

Besides smoking, there’s so many other ways I can influence the children and maybe (just maybe) they will not be needing the services of a hospice nurse for completely avoidable health conditions before they turn 50. That, dear friends, is a PRO!!

Here are more pros vs. cons. Feel free to send me some more suggestions for this list in the comments section below.

ProsCons
Time offLower pay
 Helping parents“Hearing it” from parents
Working with teachersNone
Not on callNone
Summers offExtra work
Working independentlyWorking independently
Getting to go to the bathroom or enjoy a lunchStationary occupation – you have to watch out for getting chubby
Snow daysNone

Okay, now I said there was ONLY ONE NEGATIVE thing about being a school nurse and that we’d discuss it later. Here’s later. The one negative thing about being a school nurse is this: LICE!!

Negative Side of School Nursing school nurse Pros and Cons of School Nursing head lice

‘Nuf said!

Be sure to add your items to this list of pros and cons and subscribe to Nurse Kevin’s newsletter. Hey! We’re on Facebook and Twitter, too.

I love my job! I love my job! I love my job!

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