School Nurses’ Morale

By Kathleen Celio

Since 1999 I have provided school nurse services to multiple schools. I have never seen morale this low in the school nurses ranks. School nurse professional discontent precedes the Pandemic, although the Pandemic has intensified the problems. In 2019 CHOP Policy Lab released their evaluation of School Health Services at the behest of the District. This report is  a rigorous assessment and qualitative analysis based on Framework for 21st Century School Nurse Practice that led to key recommendations grounded in best and innovative practices. Student Health Services completed recommendations within their authority. However, many of the suggestions regarding staffing, in service, performance evaluations, cohort coverage, EHR and data that require interdepartmental cooperation and actions have languished. Prior to 2011 there were bachelor’s prepared, experienced RNs on a wait list to be hired. Now, with a national nursing shortage there are vacancies and a dearth of substitute school nurses. The compensation offered by the PSD for nurses which lacks the added renumeration District teachers receive for seniority and certifications is no longer competitive. The continual drain of school nurses necessitates an ongoing effort of both recruitment and training. “The cost of replacing a registered nurse ranges from about $22,000 to more than $64,000,”  (RWJF, 2019). We can do better by our students. Fair, equitable working conditions, and competitive compensation that the PFT and District agree and commit to, will improve school nurse recruitment and retention. There are those who claim we need to implement a ‘holistic’ solution. I would suggest that the nature of school nurse services make the current situation serious and bringing nurse compensation to parity with teachers is a first step. Failure to act promptly is only compounding the problem.