In many cases, when you mention you’re a nurse, others assume that you work in a hospital setting. This isn’t entirely surprising, given that nurses are most often portrayed in the hospital on the news and in different TV sitcoms. While working as a hospital nurse can be exciting and fulfilling, there are plenty of other settings where nurses are needed.
One of the major benefits of becoming a nurse is the diversity of opportunities available for employment. Becoming a school nurse is a great option to consider, especially if you are interested in working primarily with pediatric patients. There are both pros and cons to working in this setting, but the opportunity to positively impact others in a school-based environment is both unique and fulfilling.
The role of a school nurse is much different from the role of a hospital-based nurse, although both positions require the same amount of education, and both can be very rewarding in different ways. Here are some points to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a school nurse:
The schedule of a school nurse generally follows the schedule of most schools, which means having weekends, holidays, and summers off of work. Many school-based nurses work shorter hours in comparison to hospital-based nurses, as they are not expected to work outside of typical school hours.
This can be incredibly convenient if you have children or if you like to travel frequently. Having extended vacation periods provides additional time to pursue other interests or even take on another job for some extra money. Additionally, there is the benefit of knowing what to expect each week, as the schedule of the school nurse rarely changes.
Few would argue against the claim that the school nurse’s schedule is one to be coveted. With shorter hours, a consistent schedule, and guaranteed days off, this job tend to mesh well with family life.
2. Employee benefits
This may be dependent upon the specific school district, but many school nurses are offered the same medical benefits as teachers. That means healthcare, sick pay, and possibly even retirement benefits that match those of other state employees.
On the other hand, school nurses tend to get paid less than hospital-based nurses. This may be, in part, due to the difference in number of annual hours, since school-based nurses have frequent breaks throughout the year. As a school nurse, there are rarely opportunities to be promoted or to receive bonus pay, so the opportunity to advance may be more limited in this setting.
A way to combat the pay gap is to pick up a PRN nursing job during the summer to help supplement your income. This also allows you to maintain your skills in more than one setting to help solidify your long-term job marketability.
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3. Administrative duties
It’s not surprising that the actual roles and responsibilities of a school nurse are different from those of a hospital nurse. School nurses not only care for the medical needs of students but also partake in additional administrative work, such as keeping up with immunization records and ensuring medical practices within the school setting are in compliance with state laws.
This isn’t necessarily a pro or con for the position—just something to keep in mind, as it requires a level of organization that is a bit different from what is required of the hospital-based nurse. School nurses need to be able to communicate well with parents to ensure that records are provided in a timely manner and that parents are informed of any medical concerns related to their children.
4. Level of independence
One interesting aspect of the role of the school nurse is the level of independence and autonomy. Hospital settings are largely interdisciplinary and are focused on carrying out the orders of an attending physician. As a school nurse, it’s possible that you’ll be the only medical professional onsite, meaning that any medical questions or concerns will fall upon you.
Many school nurses enjoy having their own office space. School nurses can usually organize their space to their preference and develop their own procedures (within state guidelines) for carrying out their job responsibilities.
A caveat to this level of autonomy is that school nurses rarely have support from other health professionals (as there often aren’t any other ones in the building). If the clinic gets very busy, there usually isn’t someone around who can come and help.
Traditionally, a hospital-based nursing position is inherently going to be faster-paced in comparison to a school-based position. While school clinics can get very busy, and emergencies can certainly happen within a school setting, hospital-based nurses tend to deal with more medical emergencies.
The pace of a school nurse is different because the responsibilities are different. School nurses provide education and care for children, their parents, and other staff members, and they also take care of administrative functions, such as keeping up with immunization records and medical screens.
This is not to say that one job is necessarily harder or easier than the other—they are just different, and they each come with their own benefits and challenges.
As noted previously, the educational requirements for school nurses are the same as the requirements for nurses working on other settings. This is important to keep in mind when considering annual salary and the cost of maintaining continuing education requirements.
Both school nurses and hospital-based nurses also provide education, but they do so within different contexts and to different audiences. School nurses often provide general health education to students and to their parents. They serve as a resource for the entire school population and have opportunities to disseminate information in creative ways.
If you are interested in becoming a school nurse, be sure to consider these factors as you prepare to take the plunge! Being a school nurse allows for you to positively impact a wide range of people, including children, parents, and teachers.