A Day in the Life of School Nurses
We meet Wendy Nelson and Helen Yates to find out more about their role as School Nurses...
What exactly is a school nurse?
HY: A school nurse is a nurse who has experience and training in public and child health. We’re not based in one school full time, but work closely with a number of schools to ensure that every child’s health needs are addressed early and that each child is able to reach their full potential.
WN: I don’t think everyone always realises that school nurses still exist, or if they are aware of us, perhaps they still think of us as the ‘nits nurse’ from their own childhood! But the reality is that things have moved on a lot since those days.
How long have you both been doing the job, and where are you based?
HY: We’ve both been working as school nurses since October 2012, and before to that we were both employed as child health practitioners for a number of years, which was a role which supported both health visiting and school nursing.
WN: In terms of where we’re based from, I work as part of a Children’s team based at Goodlass Road in South Liverpool and cover one senior school, four primary schools and one enhanced school in that area.
HY: I’m based at Queen’s Drive Health Clinic in Liverpool and my schools include one secondary and three primary schools, spread across Croxteth, Fazakerley and Walton.
How did you first get into the job?
WN: I actually started my working life in children’s nursing on the wards at Alder Hey after first qualifying in nursing at John Moores, but I always liked the idea of working in the community which is why I eventually made the move to become a child health practitioner. It was a really good role to go into, as it gave me a broad feel for lots of different aspects of community healthcare and helped me to identify where I really wanted to specialise – which was school nursing.
HY: During my nursing training at Edge Hill, I did a series of different rotational nursing placements and I found that I really enjoyed the community based roles, so I went straight into community health after qualifying.
So what exactly does the role involve?
WN: Some of the main things we’ll be involved in are providing health promotion activities in schools, and offering regular weekly drop-in sessions or one-to-one appointments for students or parents to come and talk to us about any concerns they might have.
As part of delivering the Healthy Child Programme which is a national Department of Health programme for all children, we also provide childhood immunisations, height and weight measurement, hearing and vision testing, and a child health check which enables us to assess every child’s health needs when they first start school in their reception year.
HY: As well as that, we also dedicate a lot of time to making and delivering care plans for children with additional health needs who may need extra support during the school day, we have to attend meetings around any safeguarding issues, and we also have to document any health issues we come across for each child so there is a lot of record keeping involved in the job too.
Can you describe a typical day?
WN: I wouldn’t say that there is a typical day as such. Every day can be quite different when you’re working with children and young people. But that’s also what makes the role so interesting.
HY: What we do also depends on the time of year that it is. Sometimes we will be more involved in delivering lots of hands on sessions in schools, especially near the start of the Autumn term when we’ll be delivering vaccinations or supporting new intakes.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
WN: I just really enjoy working with children and young people. It’s great because as a school nurse you get to do lots of health promotion work and direct engagement with young people, whereas in previous health roles I was more involved in supporting the parents. Call me crazy, but I just love working with stroppy teenagers!
HY: What I love about the role is that we’re out and about in the community, where you have opportunities to make a real difference just by offering some friendly information or advice. Often mums and dads will come and see us if they have a concern, for example, around their child bed wetting. It’s great because we’re able to reassure them that’s it’s a fairly common thing, and offer a few tips that can help them turn the situation around.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also have opportunities to support young people by listening and offering advice on a whole range of issues that could be affecting them too – whether that’s about spots skin problems, sex and relationships, stress at school or home, or issues such as self harm.
It’s great to be able to offer simple health information and advice which actually helps to prevent ill health, or teaches children and young people how to go on and lead healthier lives right into their adulthood.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
HY: Because we are based across a range of different of different types of schools, we have to be quite flexible in how we work. We have to be able to work with different age groups and different levels of ability, as well as with children and young people with behavioural difficulties or additional health needs.
WN: Because each school nurse is providing support to a number of schools at any one time, sometimes it can feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the week. But recently school nurses have started working on mobile devices which means that we can do more of our paperwork on site in the schools and spend less time back in the office.
HY: I think that’s a really important development as it’s enabling us to become a far more visible presence in the schools where we work, and much more accessible to students and parents.
Would you recommend a career in school nursing to others?
WN: Yes definitely! I absolutely love my job as a school nurse, and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in working with children and young people within a health or caring profession.