6 Ways to Help Students with Medical Needs
Health issues can have a profound effect on one’s ability to learn. Find out how you can work with your school nurse or health-care providers to set up your students for success.
Asthma, diabetes, peanut allergies, seizures, psychiatric disorders. As an educator, you will probably see at least one student with a chronic physical or mental health issue—and those issues can have profound effects on student learning.
“Health and learning are intricately linked,” says Nichole Bobo, director of nursing education at the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). “Healthy students learn better.”
Exactly what is expected from educators when it comes to student health? We have six tips from health care professionals for working with your school nurse to keep students safe and healthy this school year:
Get trained. If you are new to a school or district, find out about training that is offered to educators and make sure you take part. Common training topics include CPR, blood-borne pathogen exposure prevention and awareness of hypoglycemia, seizures and anaphylaxis. Beth Mattey, president-elect of NASN, advises educators to take advantage of education programs provided by the school nurse, even if you don’t have a student in your classroom with an identified need.
Know the signs and symptoms. If you do have students with health issues, it’s essential that you know what triggers reactions and when you should reach for the call button. For example, if you have a student with asthma, ask the school nurse how to identify the signs of an asthma attack. It is important to talk to the nurse about signs and symptoms specific to your students, because they will vary by child, says Vicki Taliaferro, an independent health consultant in Michigan. For example, a diabetic child experiencing low blood sugar may show one sign, such as sweating more than usual, that another child with the same condition may not.
Provide accommodations. Some students with health issues may need educational and physical accommodations. For example, a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be easily distracted or have organizational challenges and a diabetic child may have trouble concentrating when experiencing low blood sugar, Taliaferro says. Accommodations might include extra time or distraction-free environments during testing.
Memorize emergency plans. The school nurse creates detailed emergency plans for all students who need them, and educators must read them carefully and keep them where they can be grabbed quickly during emergencies and drills. “We need everyone who is involved with that child knowing what the plans are for the child. Everyone should know the emergency plan,” Taliaferro says. Depending on what types of medical supplies are allowed in the classroom, educators also may need to keep a “go” bag with supplies such as a glucometer or a fast-acting inhaler, she says. The school nurse should periodically check the bag to make sure it’s stocked appropriately.
Understand the law. Health privacy laws (HIPAA) prohibit nurses from broadcasting a child’s medication information. But educators do need to know if their students have health issues, especially if they are life-threatening. The school nurse can work with parents and educators to decide what is OK for others in the classroom to know, particularly if doing so means in-class care rather than repeated trips to the health room, says Taliaferro. Some states also have laws prohibiting anyone but a school nurse from administering certain medications, including albuterol for asthma and insulin for diabetes. If your school doesn’t have a school nurse, find out who is authorized to administer medication.
Keep nurses in the loop. Educators are often on the front lines of identifying health issues. If you notice a pattern in a student’s behavior, talk to the school nurse. The student may have an undiagnosed physical or mental health issue, or may have a problem at home that the school nurse can help address. “Nurses are educated to look at the whole child,” Bobo says. “Keep the communication lines open.” While many schools don’t have a school nurse assigned to the building, chances are there is someone serving in the district who can provide guidance.
Bottom line, Bobo and Mattey say: Stay in constant contact with the nurse assigned to your school and make understanding your students’ health needs part of your classroom preparation. For more insight on how your students can be affected by their maintenance medications, please review our reference-style guide that covers the most common prescription drugs taken by children.
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