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3 min read

What does a school nurse do?

School nurse using medical tracker to record first aid incident

When it comes to the healthcare of school-aged children, school nurses have a key role to play. School nurses bridge the gap between school first aiders and qualified medical professionals to support children.

Want to learn more about school nurses in the UK? Keep reading.


What is a school nurse?

Some schools may employ their own dedicated school nurse to look after their pupils. It's more common, though, for a school to be supported by a specialist community public health nurse. Rather than being attached to any one school, these school nurses offer their services to a number of schools within a locality. They also assist young people and families with children outside of school. School nurses tend to focus their support on children between the ages of five and 19 - i.e. school-aged children. However, they also support the siblings and/or parents or carers of the child.

Within the school setting, incidents and injuries are typically dealt with by trained first aiders who form part of the school staff. If necessary, the pupil(s) involved may be referred to a school nurse if there is an ongoing medical concern beyond the remit of first aid treatment. For example, if a child regularly reports feeling sick after eating, this would be a matter for a school nurse rather than a first aider - although a first aider can assist if the child vomits at school. As professionals registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, school nurses can provide a higher level of care. Unlike non-specialised nurses, school nurses have taken on extra training so they can help with the specific needs of children in the UK.


What do school nurses do?

As nurses, school nurses can help with the treatment of minor injuries and illnesses. They can also help young people and families affected by chronic conditions. With a role in the school and home life of a child, these professionals are well placed to help make sure children are receiving the care they need. In school, nurses can check medication tracking software to ensure children are getting the right dosage of medicine on time. They can also update medical records when needed. 

Being qualified nurses means that school nurses have greater expertise than a trained first aider. For this reason, they have slightly different roles. A first aider is well placed to handle a scraped knee or a bumped head, for example. On the other hand, a qualified school nurse may be better placed to assess whether a medication is working or a chronic condition is worsening. 

They’re also better connected to refer children or families to medical professionals if needed. For example, a school nurse might notice a rash that could indicate an allergic reaction. They could then refer the student to their GP to try to identify the cause.

But the role of the school nurse doesn’t end with the treatment of conditions. School nurses also have a key role to play in education, raising awareness of what we can do to help avoid preventable illnesses and conditions. For example, school nurses help to develop and deliver education on relationships, sex and health for young people. They may also be able to advise schools and other institutions on what changes can be made to improve hygiene and reduce accidents. 

Another form of prevention comes in vaccinations. These are supplied by a separate team dedicated to giving school-age vaccinations within a region. However, school nurses are vital for supporting this programme. They are often on hand to monitor children in the immediate aftermath of the vaccination to check for side effects.

They can also be very helpful in the lead up to the vaccination date. Information and education about vaccinations can help to reduce parental anxiety. By educating children, teachers and parents about the benefits of vaccinations, school nurses may be able to boost uptake. 

On top of that, school nurses can initiate and support safeguarding procedures. Unlike other medical professionals, school nurses visit children in the two main areas of their lives - school and home. This can allow a school nurse to get a much more holistic view of a child's safety and wellbeing than a parent or teacher alone could. For example, they may assess incidents reported at school to identify bullying or unexplained injuries. At home, they may evaluate a child's lifestyle and circumstances to spot potential dangers or stressors. 


Do school nurses work in the summer?

Since the job title has the word ‘school’ in it, it’s a common misconception that school nurses are only available during term time. However, school nurses work with families, children and local authorities all year round to keep up that vital level of support for children and young people. As well as providing support to schools and sixth form colleges, school nurses may also aid other childcare providers such as nurseries and youth clubs that offer their services from January through to December each year. 

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