The role of registered nurses and enrolled nurses in the school environment is pivotal to improving the health of children and adolescents.
Not only is our country experiencing increases in non-communicable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, obesity rates in this group of the Australian population, we also have significant increases in mental health concerns for young people.
These nurses can (and do) undertake an enormous role in primary healthcare prevention and early intervention in a broad range of physical and mental health issues. This occurs through regular screening, immunisation, education and ongoing health promotion and care.
School nurses have proven to be a trusted member of the school community in which they practise.
They are often specifically identified by students as a trusted person in whom to confide very personal information.
The diverse role of the school nurse may include acting as an advocate, emergency/crisis management, or health counselling. School nurses are perfectly placed to improve the health and wellbeing of young people.
Statistics retrieved from the National Health Workforce Dataset on nurses working in Primary Health Care (2016) show there were 1,511 nurses who identified, in 2016, as school nurses – working in both the private and public school sector.
States and territories have different models of care in which nurses undertake their role, with the context of practice for a school nurse varying significantly depending on the needs of the school community. In some jurisdictions, school nurses are primarily in the private school sector and in others their numbers are higher in public school settings. Community nurses also visit schools to conduct health screening and vaccinations.
ANMF members across the country have identified nurses working in schools are an important context of practice for the nursing profession. There are a number of Special Interest Groups for school nurses within the ANMF Branches, who meet regularly to provide an opportunity for continuing professional development and support. As the role of a school nurse is independent, and in many instances, a professionally isolated one, providing collegial support and development is essential.
In 2012, the ANMF developed the National School Nursing Professional Practice Standards. These standards are currently undergoing a comprehensive review. Many stakeholders provided significant feedback, and in 2017 a draft document National School Nursing Standards for Practice was produced. Consultation on these draft standards has included both an online questionnaire and focus groups that have been held across the country over the last 12 months.
It has been a privilege to conduct the review for the school nurse standards. These nurses are committed to the role of school nursing and the difference they make for young people’s health and wellbeing. Capturing the role variations within these standards is a difficult task, however at an overarching level, these nurses are undertaking primary healthcare. One of the things that struck us as being so pertinent to the broader profession of nursing is the role school nurses undertake in caring for the whole school community, teachers, parents, older siblings, by connecting people. They connect students and families with the school team, external health services and welfare professionals within their local school community.
Have you ever really contemplated the influence nurses and midwives have on every aspect of our lives? They connect people.
As the largest combined professions, nurses and midwives are everywhere, making a difference to the lives of the people they care for: their families, our families, friends, colleagues and even politicians.
Nurses working in the school environment are making a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of not only young people but also the entire school community. The ANMF strongly advocates for positions in all school settings for nurses. The new National School Nursing Standards for Practice will be available in early 2019.
Federal Professional Officer
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. 2012. National School Nursing Professional Practice Standards. Melbourne. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Accessed: December 2018. http://anmf.org.au/pages/school-nursing-standards