Statewide shortage sends administration to nurse’s office

Many schools across the nation do not have an around-the-clock school nurse to provide care for their students’ health needs. 

This creates a need for some teachers and administrators to perform double duties as medial professionals, an especially difficult task for someone without a degree in health care.

Imagine going to the campus clinic for a throbbing headache. You are examined and given medication, but you find out you were treated by an administrator – not a health professional.

According to a CNN health report, “The same employees who take attendance are (sometimes) the ones assigned to handle medical emergencies if the nurse isn’t there.”

The lack of health professionals in public schools puts many students at risk of being untreated.

“Schools have more students with chronic health problems that require care and monitoring,” said Laura Pilkington, the school health coordinator for Leon County Schools.

Many students are developing serious diseases at an early age and the demand for giving the appropriate care at school is increasing.

According to the Florida Department of Health, “There are over two million students in Florida’s public schools.

“During a typical school day there are nearly 100,000 visits to school health rooms, and more than 80,000 doses of medications are administrated.”

There is not enough funding, Pilkington said, to provide the care students require since some students have conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

In addition, the legislature has cut the funding for school nurses, making it difficult to meet the growing demands.

The school health services has reported a nurse-to-student ratio for Leon County, where there are an average of 2,898 students who share one registered nurse.

The National Association of School Nurses recommends one RN to 1,500 students.

“I would like to make it clear that I’m not a nurse,” said Ramona Fatkin, a health assistant at Buck Lake Elementary School, located on 1600 Pedrick Road in Tallahassee. “Most schools don’t have nurses trained in the health field.”

Fatkin was an administrator for nine years until she became a health assistant at Buck Lake.

She has been a health aide for five years now. 

“Having this position in a school is very important,” Fatkin said. “If you have a sick child, that child can get one-on-one attention.

“Not having a medical professional available means a teacher would have to step in. A teacher wouldn’t be able to handle 20 kids and attend to a hurting student.”

Fatkin cares for over 60 asthmatic students and four diabetic students on a regular basis.

Most of the diabetic students come to the clinic three times a day and all four require at least one shot of insulin per day. 

One Florida A&M student thinks there need to be a medical professional in the schools because there may be problems with children’s lives at home.

“It is important for nurses to be in schools because you need someone there to monitor children’s health,” said Clarissa Davis, 21, a junior nursing student from Macon, Ga. “They may not be taken care of at home. Students could suffer from malnutrition or be abused. “

Davis said that making the public aware of the importance of having a school nurse is the first step to ensuring a safe learning environment for students.

The School of Nursing is experiencing a similar situation because of a lack of state funds.

Only 40 students are admitted into the nursing program each semester. 

“We are petitioning the legislature to get more funding so that we can have more staff to admit more students,” said Cheree Daniels, director of student affairs at the School of Nursing.  

But the circumstances are a little different on the national level, where there is a shortage of nurses, not funds.

The school health services revealed that 126,000 RNs are needed in American hospitals.

Florida alone is predicted to have a shortage of 17,000 RNs in 2010, and of 61,000 ten years later.

To help ease the strain of under-funding, the school health services for Leon County has created the Volunteer School Nurse Program.

The program allows nurses with an active Florida nursing license to provide their services to participating schools. 

Contact Christy G. Bennett at