How to Become a School Nurse: Education, Certification & Salary

Mar 04, 2021

Find out how to become a certified school nurse. Research school nurse requirements, training, and certification, and learn about a school nurse salary.

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94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

What Is a School Nurse?

A school nurse is a registered nurse who works in school settings caring for the mental and physical health of students. These nurses work with individual students on a day to day basis and work in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions on a part-time or full-time basis. Sometimes they perform shifts at more than one educational institution. School nurse qualifications include a nursing degree, a registered nurse (RN) license, and clinical experience in order to perform their jobs. School nurses may have access to fewer resources than their peers who work in hospitals, but they are also less likely to require such resources on a daily basis because of the kinds of illnesses and issues that school nurses tend to treat in student populations.

A certified school nurse works with students to promote health and wellness

Should I Become a Certified School Nurse?

Although individuals may become licensed registered nurses with an associate's degree, the minimum education requirement for certification as a school nurse is a bachelor's degree. Certified school nurses are RNs who have been certified by the National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN). School nurses come into contact with children every day that may be carrying infectious diseases, and working with children, in general, may be tiring and stressful. Depending on the school, both full-time and part-time positions are available, and these workers typically work a regular schedule. School nurses bear a great deal of responsibility, as they often have relatively large student populations to care for. They may benefit from extra training in pediatrics in order to successfully communicate with and treat children and teenagers in their workplaces. This can be a challenge or a benefit depending on a person's outlook and interests. If these job elements sound appealing to you, read on to learn more about how to be a school nurse.

School Nurse Requirements

  • Bachelor's degree with a major in nursing or another health-related field
  • State licensure as an RN and voluntary certification through NBCSN as a school nurse
  • Minimum of 1,000 hours of school nursing experience prior to certification

How to Become a School Nurse

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

The NBCSN requires that all candidates for certification hold at least a bachelor's degree in nursing or another health-related field. Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs include coursework in the sciences, nutrition, health assessment, psychology, leadership, and critical thinking. The NBCSN also accepts a variety of other majors related to the health field, such as counseling, biochemistry, chemistry, health education, nutrition, and social work. A complete list of acceptable majors can be found on the NBCSN website.

Step 2: Become a Licensed Registered Nurse

Graduates of Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Associate Degree in Nursing programs are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Licensure is required of all registered nurses in the United States and is also a requirement for school nurse certification. Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the licensure exam covers a variety of nursing topics and measures the competencies that entry-level nurses need to perform their jobs safely and effectively.

Note that an ADN-educated RN still needs to obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing or one of the other NBCSN-approved programs to qualify to become a certified school nurse.

Success Tip: Prepare for the Licensure Exam

Students can lower test anxiety and increase confidence by becoming familiar with the examination requirements and process. Information about the exam can be found on the website for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Study guides for the exam also can be found online.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

To qualify to take the NBCSN exam, candidates must show proof of a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical experience in school nursing during the previous three years, though the NBCSN recommends 4,000 hours. Eligible experience includes any activities related to making a professional contribution to the health and education of students and their families in a school setting. This requirement can also be fulfilled by teaching school nursing in a college setting.

Step 4: Earn Continuing Education Credits

Certified school nurses are required to renew their certification to show that they've kept current with new practices, medications, and other developments in the field. According to the NBCSN, 75 continuing education units must be earned every five years. Coursework is subject to approval by the NBCSN and must be listed on the application for recertification.

School nurses must have a bachelor's degree, an RN license, and a voluntary certification through the NBCSN. They are also required to renew their school nurse certification and continue their education throughout their career.

School Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

Just how much do school nurses make? The average school nurse salary was $48,509 in December of 2020, according to PayScale.com. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all registered nurses was $73,300 as of May 2019, which includes school nurses. The BLS also expects the registered nursing field to grow by 7% during the 2019 to 2029 decade, which is faster than average for all jobs in the United States.

Highest Salary by State

What do school nurses make where you live? Some states pay their nurses more than others do. While statistics on school nurses, in particular, are hard to come by, statistics for all RNs are plentiful. According to the BLS, these are the top-paying states for all registered nurses, including school nurses, as of May, 2019.

State Mean Annual Salary
California $113,240
Hawaii $104,060
Washington, D.C. $94,820
Massachusetts $93,160
Oregon $92,960

Benefits of Becoming a School Nurse

There are many benefits to becoming a school nurse. Think about whether any of the following appeals to you when considering your career pathway:

  • Face-to-face interaction with students
  • Higher salary than average in the U.S.
  • Conducting meaningful work
  • Opportunity for flexible scheduling
  • A job field that is set to grow significantly
  • Less pressure than hospital jobs and other RN work

Certified Nursing Programs

When looking into what programs you want to pursue when becoming a school nurse, one important factor to consider is whether the school you are interested in offers certification for its graduates, ideally through the NBCSN. In order to be eligible for this certification, graduates must have attended a program that is accredited as a post-secondary institution by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This generally means avoiding for-profit colleges and universities and researching any schools to make sure that they have good reputations The following are just a few excellent universities offering nursing programs in the United States at the undergraduate level:

  • The University of Illinois (Chicago campus) has a well-respected college of nursing
  • UCLA (the University of California - Los Angeles) has a school of nursing with an excellent reputation
  • Columbia University (located in New York City) has an internationally recognized nursing college
  • New York University offers a Global Health Scholars Program for nurses
  • The University of Pennsylvania has the Penn School of Nursing with programs at all levels

What Do School Nurses Treat?

The specific medical issues that school nurses will likely work with varies based on the students at their school as well as their particular schedules and the availability of medical resources. It is common for school nurses to treat sports injuries incurred during gym classes or sports practices. Nurses also provide pain relief to students dealing with menstrual cramps, which may require a degree of sensitivity, especially when working with younger teenagers. Assessing students who may be showing symptoms of communicable diseases, as well as making recommendations for sending students home, is another important part of a school nurse's job. Working with students with disabilities and chronic or acute health problems, including providing regular assistants to those students who require it, is also common for school nurses. Finally, many school nurses work with students on their mental health, including providing references to counseling services, communicating with parents and health authorities about students who may be in danger, and more.

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