A Healthy Career as a School Nurse

Learn if school nursing is the right career move for you. Then find the right education program to get started.

school nurse and student

Good health is not only important to a child's general well-being but it is essential for a student's academic success. Children typical spend nearly half of their waking hours at school, so they need health care professionals available to ensure their safety and protection. And that's where school nursing comes in. School nurses are the main proponents of good health and safety for students when they are at school.

School nurses take care of sick and injured people—both teachers and students. They give them medicine, treat their wounds and give them emotional support in times of need.

Daily School Nursing

School nursing provides as-needed emergency and non-emergency health care to students within the educational system. If you become a school nurse, you may find yourself in high demand during the cold and flu season, but managing school-wide health initiatives will keep you busy throughout the year. Your typical nursing duties might include the following:

  • Assessing and monitoring the immunization status of each student
  • Providing regular vision, hearing and dental screenings
  • Coordinating health fairs and lectures
  • Offering information and resources regarding normal human development
  • Teaching classes on health and nutrition
  • Handling minor health problems and intervening with actual and potential health risks
  • Dispensing prescribed medications to students throughout the day
  • Implementing individualized health care plans for students with special health needs

School Nurses at Work

School nursing typically has nurses working in a private office setting where they can observe and treat students. The office may have a medical table or couch, a desk, and a station to store medical supplies and prescription medications for students with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and asthma.

The American Federation of Teachers reports that approximately half of the 45,000 school nurses employed in the United States cover the health care needs of three or more different schools. Depending on a district's needs, school nurses may work a set number of hours at each assigned school per day or per week, and they may tend to a dozen or more students on a daily basis.

Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for registered nurses is $65,470. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

While the school nursing job market is tight, you can break into the field by substituting for other school nurses. Substituting will give you the opportunity to gain experience, network with other nurses, and give administrators a chance to see how well you perform under pressure, all of which can lead to a permanent position in another school or nearby district.

Education and Training

Educational requirements for school nurses vary widely from state to state, so you should carefully research your state's laws at your state Department of Education before selecting a nursing education program. Every state requires that school nurses hold a registered nursing license (RN). Most states require a bachelor's degree, and some require a master's. Some school nurses choose to get an interdisciplinary education and hold a master's degree in education, public health or counseling.

In general, in one to two years, you can complete an associate's degree or nursing certificate program, which typically includes a school nurse internship. You will find specialized school nurse training programs at  4-year colleges and universities and at vocational schools, some of which offer courses online.

School Nurse Certification

As with school nurse educational requirements, certification standards for school nurses vary from state to state, with some states requiring national school nurse certification. The National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN) offers a higher level, national certification to registered nurses who meet these requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree in nursing or a health related field
  • Work in school health services or school health related services
  • Pass a certification exam