On Nurses Week, Public Schools Face Serious Nursing Shortage

(Credit: Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)

On Tuesday, to celebrate Nurses Week, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) will introduce legislation for a startling problem in America’s public schools: A serious shortage of access to school nurses.

A 2007 study (PDF) by the National Association of School Nurses found that “45 percent of public schools have a school nurse all day, every day, with another 30 percent working part time in one or more schools.” It’s likely those numbers have only worsened as schools deal with drastic budget cuts, though no newer studies are available.

In total, one quarter of schools completely lack a school nurse. At the local level, such a lack of access to care can have dangerous consequences: In Michigan — where it’s estimated that there are 180 public school nurses for 1.5 million children from K-12 — other teachers become responsible for giving insulin shots or even “rectal anti-seizure medicines.”

McCarthy’s bill, the Student to School Nurse Ratio Improvement Act of 2013, would create new funding for public school nurses. But it might also help to shed light on why it’s so important to have nurses in the first place; it would also require the Department of Education to study how access to nurse care impacts students’ academic performance.