AUSTIN (KXAN) — Around 300 school nurses from districts around Central Texas will be in Austin over the next two days to train at the University of Texas at Austin’s nursing school labs.
The training, a collaboration between UT and 12 school districts, including Austin ISD, is a new way of doing the continuing education school nurses already do. Nurses will address mental and behavioral health, diabetes care and hands-on refreshers on procedures like cleaning and modifying tracheostomies, a surgically-created hole in the neck to create a direct airway.
“It gives us a chance to practice that in a safe setting,” said Loree LaChance, director of AISD school health services for Seton Healthcare Family.
In 2015, the National Association of School Nurses surveyed school nurses around the country and found that more than a third said they wanted more education in the areas of mental and behavioral health, and 30 percent said they wanted more training in “medically fragile” skills, like tracheostomies.
UT’s nursing school staff surveyed the school nurses coming to this week’s training to tailor it to the districts’ needs. “We spent a lot of time talking to the school nurses and asking them what they wanted,” said Leigh Goldstein, an assistant professor of clinical nursing at the school.
Goldstein, who’s running the training, said school nurses are often the first to diagnose chronic issues, like vision, back or cardiac problems, and because they don’t have doctors on site, they have to do it all.
“They have to know more than an office nurse because they don’t have the office,” she said.
As the number of school nurses has declined in recent years, the nursing school said, the need for training has risen. Just like any medical professional, school nurses are always continuing their education, but they often have to do it on their own time and pay for it themselves, Goldstein said.
This training, funded by school districts, brings the nurses together in one place to use modern labs and equipment.
School nurses also have to be on the cutting edge when it comes to cyberbullying and other reasons kids can develop anxiety, depression and stress.
“Kids just can’t tell you everything like an adult can,” said Rachel Walsh, a registered nurse at Pediatric Associates of Austin.
A pediatrician might not see the signs as quickly, she said, because they don’t have the same interactions with students that school nurses do.
“They’re the ones seeing the kids every day,” Walsh said. “They have the relationships with those kids who are coming in their office.”
Austin ISD’s school health program is sending 88 nurses to the training Thursday. Eleven other districts — Comal, Elgin, Hays, Del Valle, Eanes, New Braunfels, Bastrop, Lockhart, Manor, Georgetown and Round Rock — are sending their medical professionals on Friday.