Ed Yong, the brilliant journalist for The Atlantic wrote an article about “The Great Resignation” impacting healthcare: WHY HEALTH-CARE WORKERS ARE QUITTING IN DROVES. School nurses are not immune from this trend.
I am seeing more & more school nursing colleagues submit their letters of resignation…— Robin Cogan (@RobinCogan) February 4, 2022
Please support your school nurse, if you are lucky enough to have one. We are doing our best against all odds for far too long. pic.twitter.com/RRdNoH8Q7A
The Great Resignation seems to be knocking on the doors of school health offices across the country. “This is not what I signed up for” is a popular refrain that I hear over and over again from colleagues across the country. We continue to press on, tolerating intolerable conditions, hoping that things will improve, but they don’t. School nurses have written letters of resignation, some have submitted them, some still holding onto them, waiting for the next hostile conversation as the final straw.
One nurse recently said that she was “spilling over” from the stressors. That visual stayed with me. What does it mean to spill over, I wondered. As I processed her description of feeling that she could no longer contain herself, that the calm parts of herself were no longer accessible, I got it. We are living and working on high alert, spending our days in a state of hypervigilance. It is a different kind of alert than typical school nursing, it is intensified from twenty-four months of difficult conversations, whiplash inducing mitigation strategies and the politicization of public health.
Social media posts are filled with stories of school nurses sharing their letters of resignations or decisions to take early retirement. Full disclosure, this has been weighing heavily on my mind as well. My husband begs me daily to submit my retirement papers, but I am torn. No wonder sleep is so fleeting as I grapple nightly with what to do. I struggle with this decision because I am dedicated to the profession of school nursing, but the two year grind of pandemic school nursing has taken a terrible toll.
I am reprinting a segment of a recent blog post hoping it provides some talking points that school nurses can share with school administrators: The Relentless School Nurse: Can We Save the School Nursing Workforce?
So how can we save ourselves, our workforce, our beloved profession? The first step may be for superintendents and school leadership to listen to us. School nurses have the answers to save ourselves and in turn, our school communities. Here are some solutions garnered from many hours of deeply revealing community conversations with school nurses:
- We need to work as a health services team, with staffing that meets the enormity of the challenge at hand. School nurses cannot work in isolation anymore, it was never sustainable.
- We cannot be the de facto health department. There needs to be a team of contact tracers embedded in school districts/buildings. School nurses are not the only staff members that can perform contact tracing. In fact, it is such an overwhelming and time-consuming job that it takes us away from every other important responsibility that we have.
- Districts need to partner with vendors to implement testing for staff and students. Stop adding layer after layer of expectations on the shoulders of a beleaguered workforce with no support to share the load.
- Support your staff, do not allow or excuse abusive language or behavior directed towards school nurses who are attempting to implement the public health mitigation strategies that keep students and staff safe. Stand up for us and protect our wellbeing and safety.
- Pay school nurses who are working outside of school hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays to perform tasks we cannot complete during the day. Understand that one positive case of COVID in school can take hours to conclude correctly.
- Recognize that we have COVID reporting responsibilities that include, school level, district level, county level, and state level. These reports take time and space to complete correctly, the level of data collection is enormous, it does not happen in a vacuum or with endless interruptions.
- School nurses need to be supervised by school nurses. We need leadership that has an intimate understanding of the full scope of school nursing practice. Create Health Services Departments at the district level, with opportunities for school nurses to have upward mobility and grow their leadership skills.
- Say thank you, it goes a long way to give us fuel to keep going. Recognize and include school nurses in school activities and celebrations.
- Value our educational preparation, leadership skills, and consensus-building, we are a trusted member of the school community. Include school nurses on committees, but give us uninterrupted release time to participate.
- Pay a wage commensurate with our professional expertise and education. Create a salary scale that recognizes our work experience prior to entering school nursing.