School Nurses are Key to Better Student Health
New assessment and planning tool, and new professional resources, help schools care for students
Each weekday, Wisconsin school nurses are charged with the health of the state’s school-age youth. School nurses embrace this responsibility and have consistently sought to improve school health services to meet a rising demand.
“This project was initiated because there was grassroots interest in improving school health services in Wisconsin,” Sarah Beversdorf, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Health Association (WPHA), said.
Beversdorf began by recruiting an advisory committee, and found an astounding level of excitement regarding the topic. Every single person that she contacted agreed to participate.
“It was striking how passionate individuals were,” Beversdorf said.
The Determining the Status of Wisconsin School Health Services project began soon after in 2007 with a Development award from the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin endowment’s Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP). The support enabled the group to collect statewide input on how to best assess the opportunities for improving Wisconsin’s school health services.
“The recommendations also included strengthening best practices, improving enforcement of some state statutes, and providing technical assistance and training,” Beversdorf said, “and we’ve focused on these recommendations in our current project.”
The project partners* used the results of the first project to inform a two-step strategy to improve school health services: develop a comprehensive statewide survey that would provide individual school districts with a self-assessment tool and an individualized plan for improvement, and then develop tools and resources to address identified statewide gaps.
With support from a 2011 HWPP Impact award, the partners developed an online survey and disseminated it throughout the state.
“Considering that it was 100 questions long and took school districts about five hours to complete,” Teresa DuChateau, WPHA’s school nurse resource coordinator, said, “we felt it was a success when 117 districts out of 426 finished the assessment.”
“I think the response rate was reasonably high, given how difficult it is for busy people to complete even a one-page survey,” Marie Wolff, Ph.D., associate professor of family and community medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the project’s academic partner, said. “I think it speaks to the need. People were willing to take the time to complete a lengthy survey because they saw this as a pressing need.”
Users of the assessment reported that it was a valuable tool.
“Overwhelmingly, the respondents indicated that it was well worth their time,” DuChateau said. “It provided them with a plan that they could implement in their district to make positive changes.”
At that point, the project partners had effectively completed their first objective by developing a meaningful assessment tool for Wisconsin’s school health services. It was then time to focus on the second objective of developing resources, which was critical to project success. School nurses and administrators needed additional resources to help implement and update policies and procedures and improve practices.
“We heard from school districts and school nurses that they need sample policies and procedures that incorporate best practices.” DuChateau said. School nurses know that best practices exist, but their time is usually committed to providing and supervising direct care.
“They don’t have the luxury of having time to read academic journals,” DuChateau said. “So we developed best practices guidelines on important topics like food allergies and other major issues in school nursing. These guidelines synthesize current research in a format that is user-friendly and that can be implemented by school health staff members who are not licensed nurses.”
In addition, the project partners saw the need for a resource that school nurses could use to adapt clinical procedures to the school setting, and also for nurses to use when supervising and training health workers.
“We created a mobile website that facilitated statewide access to common school nursing procedures,” DuChateau said. “Seven of the 31 procedures have a video component, which enhances the website’s usefulness as a training tool.”
As with the assessment, the project partners have heard from school nurses and health workers throughout the state that these resources are meeting a real need.
“The response we’ve received has been tremendously positive,” DuChateau said. “Districts love the sample policies and procedures, many of which have been taken to school boards for implementation. The feedback on the website has been very positive as well.”
One nurse commented that the resources from this project made her feel the best she has ever felt about her role as a nurse. Another nurse described the resources as a being like help from a guardian angel.
By facilitating improved school nursing policy and practice, the project partners will continue to help assure outstanding care and make schools healthier places for students to learn and grow.
*Partners include the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses.