By Jane Morris

The school nurse shortage in America and elsewhere continues to get worse with no good (or appropriate) solutions in sight. Despite teachers and school nurses all reaching high levels of burnout, one government’s solution to address the school nurse shortage is potentially downright dangerous.

School Nurse Shortage

The amount of things that teachers are expected to do in a day is totally unreasonable. We must use every single minute to teach, plan, meet, intervene, advise, call, and clean, and there is often just not enough time to get it all done. As the tasks we have piled onto our plate grow higher and higher, we sometimes wonder what else could possibly be added to the list? One thing I never considered was providing medical services.

Along with a serious teacher shortage, we also have a critical shortage of school nurses.

A decent school may have one nurse, while in other districts many schools share one, and others have none at all. “Years ago, nearly every school had a nurse,” recalls Dr. Griffin-Myers, director of the School of Nursing at Fresno State University. “But times have changed. Nurses are now often responsible for multiple schools and large populations of students, coinciding with more students with serious health issues attending schools.” 

I never considered school nurses to be a luxury; it seemed more like an obvious necessity.

Chalkboard that says, "No" on it.

School Nurses Are Burning Out

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that every school have a nurse, but only twenty-two states actually require it. In fact, only 25% of public schools in the U.S. have a full-time nurse, while 35% have one working part-time. And the nurses who are employed full-time are burning out just as fast as teachers.

A high school nurse for Moses Lake Public Schools recently told the Washington state legislature, “As the sole school nurse responsible for the health and well-being of roughly 2,750 students in six locations during a global pandemic my daily duties are not sustainable.”

With such unmanageable working conditions and the fact that they can make tens of thousands of dollars more in hospitals with a more reasonable workload, it’s no wonder there is a critical shortage of school nurses. And that was before they became responsible for all Covid-related care as well!

Ontario’s Proposed Solution to the School Nurse Shortage

The terrifying part of this school nurse shortage is what the government in Ontario is proposing.

“Ontario is considering a new policy that could see school staff perform some health services for students,” according to a provincial government draft obtained by CBC News. The document proposes that school staff do health-related tasks for students with disabilities.

This may include “cleaning of catheters, manual expression of the stomach and bladder (to help squeeze out urine), tube feeding, injecting medication, and oral or nasal suctioning.” And although these are tasks that nurses and other health professionals have extensive training to perform, “The government draft outlines training for the different health-related examples of tasks that could be given to educators.

Depending on the task, it could include instruction from a primary healthcare provider, parents or caregivers, or community healthcare organizations.”

Page taken from Ontario's ministry of education's nurse shortage proposal.

Teachers Providing Medical Care for Students with Disabilities

So basically, I could have a student in my mainstream classroom (one of 30 or 35) who requires a healthcare professional to clean their catheter or inject medication, and I would be considered properly trained if a parent explains how to do it. If past teacher trainings are any indication, I can tell you that it will end up being minimal, or non-existent.

On top of everything a teacher worries about during the school day, including keeping their students safe from violent attacks which have become more common, can you imagine that teacher having to worry about getting a critical medical procedure correct?

One union called the proposal a way to cut costs by spending less on registered nurses and “putting more on the plates of already overloaded educational support staff.” But The Ministry of Education (which sounds straight outta Orwell’s 1984, if you ask me!) said this policy review was prompted, in part, “because families told them the outdated health-care framework is a barrier for children with disabilities to attend school.”

Thanks, guys. Way to add more guilt to a teacher’s load of heavy-duty emotions! If you really cared about children with disabilities attending school, you would find the funding to hire properly trained medical staff. You might look into the budget for standardized testing first. 

Notebook that says, "I'm a teacher, not a nurse."

Public School Nurse Shortage

Can you fathom the lawsuits against teachers who didn’t get the procedure right and caused a major health issue for the student? Way to make a serious teacher shortage even more serious, Ontario! (And hey, U.S. government, don’t get any ideas!)

Thoughts on this solution to the school nurse shortage? Leave them in the comments below or sound off in the Vent Forum.

Author Bio

Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.

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