Frequent Flyers in the Nurse’s Office

5 ways to help healthy students avoid visiting the school nurse without good reason

By Michele Faehnle

Every school nurse has a few frequent flyers: those students who are in the health office weekly, daily, or multiple times each school day for minor complaints. While the school nurse is always happy to assist a student who has legitimate health concerns, it is our job to help them stay in class so they have access to education.

Students who frequently visit the nurse’s office for frivolous reasons can be disruptive to the classroom and the health office, and also can hinder their own studies. Here are a few tips for keeping kids in class.

  • Understand the role of the school nurse. School nurses are present to help students with health needs but also want the children to be present in class to learn. The nurse also has many other jobs to complete, such as maintaining health records, giving medication, and doing health screening — which can be difficult to do if the health office is constantly full of students. Reasons to send students to the nurse’s office or call the nurse include: loss of consciousness, bone/joint injuries, seizure activities, serious falls, signs of an allergic reaction, vomiting, bleeding, breathing difficulties, undiagnosed rash, splinters, nosebleeds, suspected lice infestation, human or animal bites, and eye injuries. Many minor injuries can be handled in the classroom.
  • Keep a small bag with supplies such as band-aids, gauze pads, and tooth containers, in your desk. I supply my teachers at the beginning of the year with these items to handle minor cuts and lost teeth. Students also learned very quickly that a microscopic cut will not be a reason for a visit to the nurse and will not be a fast past to the nurse’s office. I also maintain a portable first-aid kit handy for recess with the same items. If you have a small lunchbox cooler, make small baggies with ice in them for minor bumps that occur during recess. Assembling ice packs can be a great work of mercy for a class to do each day before recess time!
  • Ask the student why they need to go to the nurse. Don’t be afraid to ask them to wait a few minutes or say “no.” Not all complaints need to be seen by a school nurse immediately. Some teachers may be worried that they will get in trouble if they don’t allow their students to visit the nurse’s office. Asking to go to the nurse’s office is not like asking to use the bathroom. Sometimes students come to my office to ask for crackers and juice. Often they are looking for a chance to get out of class. If a student cannot give you a good reason, or has a very vague complaint, ask them to wait 10-20 minutes. Many times the minor aches and pains will have resolved themselves within that time frame.
  • Consider a call-ahead policy, especially for students who frequently visit the nurse. Students who come to the nurse’s office know how to get out of class. They might ask you to visit the nurse in first period, then during art class 45 minutes later, and then again ask the staff working lunch duty. If you call ahead to the nurse to let them know the student is coming, she can let the staff know that that student was just seen and if there is anything more that can be done.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with the school nurse, especially about any issues the student is having. Many of the visits to the nurse can be attributed to anxiety, but it can be difficult to know when a student’s stomachache is psycho-social, academic or home-related versus illness. I always appreciate a call or note from the teacher when they send a student to my office and include information such as “John got in trouble in class and is very upset about it,” or “Sue is struggling with an issue with friends.”  Even good news, such as “mom just had a new baby” can help the nurse assess what is really going on with the student.

Sometimes figuring out the reason behind frequent visits to the nurse’s office can take some time to uncover; however, school nurses and teachers play an important role in working together as a team to help students keep healthy and stay in class.

Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN, is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.