How to Become a School Nurse in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a school nurse. Learn about education requirements, licensure, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing & Public Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a School Nurse?

Working as a school nurse means providing medical treatment to students and staff and regularly providing health advice and counsel. School nurses should be compassionate, patient and organized individuals who like working with people. School nurses may also help educate the school population and their families about various health cares and concerns.

If a career as a school nurse interests you, take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Treat students and staff suffering from minor ailments and chronic illnesses, ensure the school is in compliance with laws and regulations, create health plans, secure medications
Licensure Required Licensure required
Job Growth (2012-2022) 19% for all registered nurses*
Average Salary (2015) $56,470*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a School Nurse Do?

A school nurse is a medical professional who monitors the health of students and staff at a school. Responsibilities include treating minor ailments, developing health plans, and providing health advice and counsel. The scope of their duties can encompass the mental, emotional, physical and sexual health of students. They make sure students with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma, stay with their treatment plan. Securing medications, preparing health reports, conducting home visits, consulting with outside professionals, and maintaining compliance with laws and regulations are among their other duties as well.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You need to earn a high school diploma or GED to enroll in a nursing program. Preparatory courses for nursing may include biology, chemistry, English and psychology. A few schools may offer nurses' aide vocational training courses that cover anatomy, nutrition and body mechanics.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree or Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

To work as a nurse, you must be licensed, which requires an associate's or bachelor's degree. An associate's degree may be earned in two years and a bachelor's degree in four years. Bachelor's degree programs often accept transfer credits from associate's degree programs.

Nursing programs at either level train you in medical terminology, pharmacology, patient evaluation, patient care and treatment procedures. Possible course topics include physiology, microbiology, pediatrics, gerontology and psychology. Because they are longer, bachelor's degree programs allow you more room to explore specialties and different clinical nursing environments. Programs at both levels include clinical practicum courses that provide work experience.

Step 3: Obtain an RN License

In addition to the completion of a training program, all U.S. states and the District of Columbia require you to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse. The exam tests your nursing competency and medical knowledge, and emphasizes the duties commonly performed by entry-level nurses. Test questions focus on your ability to make decisions in various patient care scenarios under critical conditions.

Step 4: Take the School Nurse Certification Exam

While schools may not require certification, the National Association of School Nurses recommends passing the National Board for Certification of School Nurses' (NBCSN) certification exam (www.nasn.org). To be eligible, you must be a registered nurse, have a bachelor's degree and be employed by a school. Three years of experience as a school nurse is recommended. The exam consists of 250 multiple-choice questions in five subject areas. The areas include health appraisal, nursing management, disease prevention, special issues and professional issues.

Step 5: Find a Career as a School Nurse

Public and private elementary, junior high and high schools are possible prospective employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 2.7 million people were employed as registered nurses in 2015, with 51,560 of them employed in elementary and secondary public and private schools (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There is a wide variety of careers that are similar to school nursing that may also interest you. If you don't wish to become a registered nurse, you may choose to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Nurses with these credentials may work in a variety of settings and will often assist registered nurses in their tasks. Some of their duties may be limited as a result of their licensing. Becoming an LVN or LPN generally requires a year long course which is often found available at community colleges or technical schools. Another career possibility is a dental hygienist. After completing an associate's degree, these individuals provide dental care such as teeth cleaning and examining patients for oral disease.

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