It is hard to believe September is here already and Labor Day has come and gone. As we say farewell to the carefree days of summer and turn toward autumn, most American children are either returning to the classroom or have already been back to school for a few weeks. Likewise, school nurses are once again gearing up to meet the challenges of another school year. As a new semester starts, many nurses are also returning to the classroom to further their educations. In keeping with this theme of school and education, this month I will focus on the changing role of school nurses, nurse education and moving from an RN to a BSN, nursing continuing educational units, or CEU’s, and how to find those necessary educational opportunities. So, until next time, I wish you a healthy and productive month, and a smooth transition as kids and adults, alike, return to the classroom.
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Editor, NurseRecruiter.com Newsletter
The Changing Role of the School Nurse
According to information based on a 2008 study by the Health Resources and Services Administration listed on the National Association of School Nurses website, there are currently more than 70,000 working RN school nurses in the United States. School nurses have been present in schools for over a century. They were first introduced to help stem absenteeism due to illnesses but over the decades the role has evolved into something quite different. The responsibilities of practice, and the environment in which school nurses work has changed significantly. In general, school nurses are tasked with the oversight of the school’s overall health including creating policies and programs. The role has expanded to encompass not only student’s physical health needs, but school nurses are now asked to address the mental, emotional, and social health of the student population. They are involved in the assessment, intervention and follow-up of students exhibiting signs of now common disorders such as ADHD, epilepsy, and asthma, or disease outbreaks such as the flu. They do everything from dispensing medication to treating medically fragile students.
School nurses have always been among the first responders in times of crisis, but their role has evolved because the types of emergencies have become more complex. Situations arise in schools from natural disasters such as those caused by severe weather or earthquakes to eruptions of school violence and threats of terrorism. School nurses collaborate with other school officials to create strategic plans for such situations, and that is one reason it is important to have well educated and thoroughly prepared registered nurses in these positions.
In addition to dealing with changing roles, increased diseases, disorders, and disabilities, the school nurse is often now responsible for a much larger number of students. In an article written by Carol Mithers for Parenting.com, she states that less than half of American schools have a full-time onsite nurse to care for students, and a quarter of US schools have no nurse at all. The NASN published that the nurse to student ratio in the US can vary from as low as 396:1 in Vermont to 4,411:1 in Michigan. Fortunately, this trend is seemingly turning around as, according to NASN.org, thirty-eight states raised the number of nurses working in schools in the ten year period between 1999 and 2009. In addition, two bills have recently been introduced into the House and the Senate in an effort to reduce the student to nurse ratio.
RN to BSN – Why Make the Move?
The responsibilities of nurses have changed significantly over the years. RN’s today are expected to have a more expansive knowledge base and skill set. Registered nurses are called upon to demonstrate a higher level of ability, accountability, intellect, and knowledge today than they did even 10 years ago. The workplace has become more complex and vying for open jobs has become more competitive. Some hospitals have made the move to hire only BSN prepared applicants. Advances in technology now require nurses to be more proficient with computers, digital interfaces on equipment and applications used, for instance, when charting notes. Nurses who have experience with computers are more valuable to employers because they are efficient and can more easily learn to use new software programs. Medical equipment has become more specialized and technical. Protocols and procedures change overtime and it is important for nurses to be up to date with the demands of the job. Progress made in medical practices and the expanding scope of practice have left many RN’s struggling to keep up. For this reason and for others, such as career advancement or a desire to specialize into a specific field, an RN holding only a two year degree, or those with a nursing diploma, may decide to go back to school to earn a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). Nurses with a BSN typically earn a higher wage, have added responsibilities, competency, and credibility. Many RN to BSN nurses return to work seeking a more managerial or administrative role, having gained additional knowledge and leadership skill. Some nurses choose to return to school because they have decided they want to specialize in a specific area of practice and need the BSN under their belt before moving on to more advanced degree programs and training. Many of the certifications granted by The American Nurses Credentialing Center first require a BSN degree.
While the Associate’s Degree in Nursing is more vocational in nature, the BSN is a more rounded degree program and is the stepping stone to more advanced degree programs such as the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The BSN offers classes that are not solely restricted to bedside tasks. In addition to basic college classes like history or composition and rhetoric, the course work for the BSN includes research, nursing science, leadership/management, informatics, community health, cultural competencies, and more. RN to BSN programs are offered online, distance learning, and in classrooms. RN to BSN programs typically end up costing between $10,000 and $40,000, depending upon the school. The BSN is a four year program, but nurses with their associate degrees are able to transfer completed course credits.
If you are a nurse, then you are probably already familiar with your state’s licensing requirements for CEU’s, since the requirements for continuing education units (CEU’s, or sometimes, CE’s) vary from state to state. CEU’s are commonly available through nursing associations, schools, online, and through some nonprofit agencies like Alzheimer’s Association. There are free nursing CEU’s available all over the internet. A quick search for “free nursing CEU’s” brings back close to 200,000 results. CEU’s are a means to an end, but they can also be extremely valuable to your career and your advancement potential. The best place to locate information on which providers are delivering acceptable CEU’s for maintaining your license is your state nursing board. To find a complete list of state nursing boards with contact information you can visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website or follow this link.