School Nurses Make the Grade

School nurseA child’s health is directly related to scholastic performance and the ability to learn. But without easy access to screening and intervention, how can young students’ health needs be met?

“Putting Health Care Back into the Schools” was designed to evaluate the impact of full-time school nurses on the health status and academic performance of students. This five-year study was a partnership between San Jose Unified School District with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County, and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study, focused on two elementary and two middle schools, showed that school nurses made a tremendous difference in both children’s health and scholastic performance. Almost 95 percent of the teachers said that having a full-time school nurse on site helped them teach more effectively, and 50 percent of the targeted students with asthma showed significant gains in their math and English standards test scores.

The full-time nurses in the demonstration schools were able to provide  flu immunizations; screened and referred kids for vision, hearing, dental hygiene, and scoliosis; and helped manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma—the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under 15 years of age. They also referred children who needed a regular source of care.

Nurses tracked asthma students’ health status with take-home surveys and worked directly with parents and teachers. Absences due to illness dropped, and parents reported using fewer Emergency Department services for an asthma episode. Students were also twice as likely to visit an appropriate health care provider after a medical referral from the school nurse.

“So many of America’s schools do not have a full-time nurse on staff,” says Candace Roney, executive director of Community Partnerships for Packard Children’s. “The study showed improved health outcomes, better academic performance, and more effective use of existing health services when a full-time school nurse was able to know the children, the teachers, and the parents and could devote attention to a single population of students.”


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