With less than 30 days to go before school begins, Pasco County Schools has several openings for school nurses. Up to 18 schools can be affected by the shortage.
Lisa Kern, a nationally certified school nurse and supervisor of health services for Pasco County Schools, has been in this field for more 20 years.
“It has never been more difficult to find qualified registered nurses for our district,” said Kern. “The economic downturn has had a negative impact on our staff.”
Some school nurses have left the system for the private sector, where they can earn significantly more money. It is an issue school districts across the state are facing.
The shortage could not be happening at a worse time. The role of the school nurse has expanded in recent years.
“Some people may think that we just hand out Band-aids," Kern said. "They couldn’t be more wrong. Our nurses provide staff development, make classroom presentations as well as managing an entire school’s health care service.”
Florida statute requires that schools provide mandated health screenings for all students at various grade levels. These screenings include, vision, hearing, scoliosis and body mass index (BMI).
The school nurse coordinates these services for hundreds of students each year. In addition, they develop specific individual health care plans for kids with chronic health issues.
“There is a greater emphasis on bringing free health care out to the schools,” Kern said.
The University of South Florida/Ronald McDonald health care unit and Florida Vision Mobile unit, (funded by the Glazer Family Foundation) are mobile units that visit schools on a regular basis.
Last year, 233 pairs of free eyeglasses were given to students. This year the Pasco County Health Department will fund a new mobile dental unit that will provide free dental care, including dental sealant for all second-grade students.
A school nurse can have a direct affect on student achievement. Nurses are continually assessing students on a daily basis for various health care issues.
“If there are underlying health issues, kids cannot perform well in the classroom,” Kern said. “Dental pain, vision issues, or hearing problems can negatively effect learning gains.”
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino commented, "Students are best able to learn when their primary needs are met. Our school nurses play a vital role in ensuring that our students’ physical and mental needs are addressed. By focusing on preventative care and education, our school nurses facilitate a supportive learning environment through which all students can reach their highest potential. Our nurses do a phenomenal job in providing continuity of care for all students.”
Registered nurses who are interested in becoming a school nurse should have some pediatric experience, and a bachelor's degree is preferred. Interested applicants can call Lisa Kern at 727-774-2000.
Editor's note: The author is married to Lisa Kern and is a former Pasco County school administrator.