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School Nurses a Concern During Flu Epidemic

There have been several news stories recently about the shortage of school nurses. Most of these articles are generated by the fact that a new school year is starting just as the swine flu epidemic is starting to impact substantial numbers of people, and schools are a prime location for the spread of contagious diseases.

A story in the Cincinnati Inquirer details the shortage of medical personnel on both sides of the Ohio River in both Ohio and Kentucky, but in the process also reveals the role that professionals with LPN degrees play a significant role in school health services at the K-12 level. School districts with drastic shortages of RNs rely on support services from professionals in the LPN (licensed practical nurse) ranks.

Massive Shortage of School Nurses

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that school districts should have one Registered Nurse for every 750 students. In Ohio, there is one nurse for every 2,377 students while in Kentucky the figure is one nurse per every 1,877 students. Nationally the average is over 1,100 students for each school nurse.

According to the Inquirer, "Schools hire a wide range of medical workers to handle school health needs, from registered nurses with advanced degrees to nurse's aides." If there is going to be a mass inoculation program in schools this year, there is going to be a need for additional personnel that just is not available in the nation's RN population. That may lead to the additional use of trained medical staff with vocational nursing degrees to assist in school health care centers.

At the moment, both Ohio and Kentucky require RNs to complete a licensure program provided by the states' Departments of Education in order to carry the title "school nurse." For that reason, LPNs and vocational nurses aren't included in school statistics for nursing staff. However the statistics in specific school districts point to the importance of LPNs in the provision of school health care.

Important Support Role for LPNs and LVNs

One school district employs eight RNs and nine LPNs. Another district has four nursing professionals from each category. A third has three RNs and four LPNs. If the school districts in the Cincinnati region are any indication, the role of medical assistants in providing school health support services is going to go up.

The districts in Ohio and Kentucky are gearing up for a year of flu shots and flu education, both of which can be provided by staff working under the supervision of an RN. With no end in sight to the continuing nurse shortage, there may be a new career window opening for LPNs and LVNs in public schools.

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