Without fail, the call comes at the least convenient time imaginable. Your phone screen glares with the familiar number — a number that makes you sigh, roll your eyes, and answer in a mildly frustrated tone. As you listen to the caller, you mentally run through the list of errands you won’t be able to accomplish and immediately prepare to have your afternoon completely upended. As the call ends, you are probably not as nice as you could be, your irritation shining through because your day has gone to shit.
On the other end of the line, the school nurse hangs up, and you imagine them smiling ruefully, but more likely, they let out a heavy sigh because this is just 1 of the 20 or 30 calls they’ll make during their workday — all to parents who are seemingly irritated at them for doing their job. But they’ll keep doing what they do with little thanks or recognition. They’ll manage chronically ill students, coordinate care for staff members, bandage and treat playground battle wounds, triage and assess acutely sick children, and they’ll often do it without even taking a lunch break.
School nurses are the unsung heroes of the educational system. Of course, teachers don’t get near enough credit either, but school nurses are forgotten warriors, the heroes in the trenches, working day in and day out to make sure students can learn in a safe, healthy environment. And yet, no matter how hard they work, parents are still irritated by their phone calls and often challenge their medical judgment when the nurse requests a parent take their student home.
I know because I’ve worked as a school nurse. I’ve witnessed firsthand how rude parents can be and how difficult it can be to impress upon parents that school nurses aren’t just making things up as they go along. There have been so many times that I have wanted to have a throw-down with a parent because they refused to comply with school district health and safety policies. Of course, I always refrained because nurses, on the whole, are a professional bunch, and it’s not in our wheelhouse to bite back.
But if school nurses could tell you what’s really on their minds, I’m pretty sure they’d mention the following:
1. When we ask you to fill out medical emergency cards and forms, JUST FUCKING DO IT.
Yes, we all get writer’s cramp every September when we have to fill out an endless pile of paperwork, but those emergency cards are a lifeline for the school nurse. In an emergency, every minute counts, and when a child needs help for a serious injury, the very last thing a nurse needs to do is make extra phone calls to track down a parent. Your child will most likely go through the entire year without issue, but in the event of an emergency, do us all a favor and get that form in ASAP.
2. Yes, your kid has lice, and yes, you have to pick them up. Yes, we are sure it’s lice.
Listen, we don’t like making the lice phone call either. We know that hearing the dreaded lice diagnosis is a fate worse than death for many parents. We get it. But it’s not our fault, so stop acting like we did this to you on purpose. We are happy to help you in any way we can with suggestions on how to treat lice, but acting like we personally implanted nits on your kid’s head is not cool.
3. When we tell you that your kid is too sick for school, we aren’t trying to ruin your life.
Viruses and colds spread like wildfire in schools, particularly in an elementary setting. If your kid is vomiting or has a fever above 101, your kid needs to stay home. Period. Not only is it better for your child’s learning, but it’s also the right thing to do for the other 25 kids in your child’s classroom. We understand that parents work and that arranging childcare can be a nightmare when a kid gets sick, but that’s just an unfortunate part of parenthood. Keep your kids home so we can extinguish the spread of the illness as quickly as possible. Please and thank you.
4. School nurses do so much more than hand out ice packs and Band-Aids.
School nursing has evolved beyond ice packs and kisses for boo-boos. In this current healthcare climate, kids are sicker, insurance companies pay less for care, and treatments for diseases like diabetes, cancer, and other ailments have become more mobile. School nurses monitor diabetic students multiple times a day, administer medications for ADHD and other medical conditions, and perform hands-on tasks like urinary catheterization and toileting for disabled students. School health rooms have become mini urgent care departments over time, and the nurses who run these offices are highly skilled professionals. Sure, we still hand out ice packs for bumps and bruises, but we are also busy AF with other tasks.
5. School nurses will do anything to protect your kid — truly.
Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the school nurse who was working at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on that tragic day. School nurses spend long hours planning and preparing for natural disasters and emergencies that affect the school they serve. While we hope we never have to enact our disaster plans, the fact is that school nurses have planned down to the smallest detail what they would do to protect your child should an emergency arise during school hours. So the next time you roll your eyes when your school nurse calls, remember that they’re there, ready to protect your child at a moment’s notice.
In short, just be nice to school nurses. They deserve to be treated with respect. And when the holidays roll around, don’t forget to send in a little token of appreciation for them. You may have to take home one puking kid, but your school nurse has five pukers in their office and three more on the way. That alone deserves a standing ovation.