An excited Liz Pray enjoyed taking selfies with the resource officers in Moses Lake High School, Central Washington. But this time, she is slightly anxious. She is here to care for high school students.
Earlier, Liz was taking care of students spread in four elementary schools in the same school district. After seven years, she will care for older students.
Shortage Of School Nurses Gets Worse In America
Seeing the pupils she cared for growing into young adults is exciting. It is fun to notice the way they changed over the years. But she is concerned about the continuing surge of the threat of the Delta variant. She has no idea what is in store for children in the year ahead.
Liz belongs to the group of 96000 full-time school nurses in the country. A threat of uncertainty hangs over their heads, they say.
America began facing a shortage of school nurses even before the pandemic started. Authorities had introduced great changes in their daily responsibilities.
The pandemic only highlighted the earlier problems that school nurses were facing. According to CDC, schools are required to have a full-time nurse per 750 students. Reports, however, say that up to 25% of schools don’t have even a single nurse.
In 2018, 39% of schools hired full-time nurses. The same for part-time nurses was 35%. 25% of them refused to hire a nurse.
As per a working paper from the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data & Research in Seattle, the average student-nurse proportion in schools during 2019-2020 was 1,173-1.
According to the president of the National Association of School Nurses, every school should have a full-time nurse. Such a service is the right of every student in the country. The job of a nurse is not confined to assisting a student to handle the stress of the pandemic. It is she who ensures that students are doing well and are prepared to perform well.
The summer, according to Liz, was quite normal. She had to verify students stuck with general immunization procedures. She also has to organize the records of those suffering from chronic ailments. Other daily tasks added to her workload.
But this time, her job is three times heavier than that of the past. She is the lone nurse in her school. The unfortunate situation is that for one and a half years, the schools are partially empty. Thus she has to deal with the records of their chronic ailments. The anxiety of first-timers and the depression due to the social isolation students experienced during the lockdown add up to their concerns. Then came the pandemic.
The COVID 19 added the following her already draining workload:
- Setting up a testing mechanism for COVID 19
- Organizing pop-up vaccine clinics at regular intervals
- Finding ways to disinfect the environment
- Setting up strategies to handle an outbreak
- Handling ire parents who may oppose the use of masks
She also witnessed a protest against the mask mandate and the requirement of vaccination. Her State is experiencing a lot of tension nowadays, she said. The same is visible at the national level. The instances of protests leading to scuffles and forced shut-downs are now part of life in the US. The wide difference among schools in this regard attribute to such incidents, experts say.
During the pandemic, one can never clearly outline the responsibilities of a school nurse. Masking is a mandate in certain schools. For some, the same applies to vaccination. Still, others require anyone exposed to COVID 19 to quarantine for a few days.
In schools where there are no mandates for masks or vaccination, the life of a school nurse is always at risk. They are also forced to bear wide disparity in the matter of salary.