How to Become a School Nurse

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A smiling school nurse meets with a young patient.More than 40% of school-aged children in the U.S. have at least one chronic health condition such as diabetes, asthma, or food allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For these children, school nurses play an integral role in helping them manage their conditions, and can even help identify chronic conditions through routine exams.

While school nurses clearly play an integral role in managing the health and well-being of students, the impact of their work has broader implications. By helping to treat illnesses and chronic conditions, nurses can improve students’ quality of life, and reduce absenteeism and potential health care costs.

For many students in rural areas or low-income families, a school nurse might be the only health care professional they regularly see, owing to a lack of health insurance or local health care services. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5% of children had no health care coverage as of 2021. School nurses help ensure students have consistent access to the care they need, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

By identifying and treating health issues early on, school nurses can help prevent more severe problems from developing. Their presence can also provide peace of mind for students and their families, knowing there is someone on staff who is trained to handle medical emergencies and provide care. Those with a strong desire to help students live healthier lives should explore how to become a school nurse and consider pursuing an advanced nursing degree.

School Nurse Job Description

A school nurse’s job description is to ensure the overall health and well-being of all students, which covers a wide range of duties. Like many other nursing roles, their specific responsibilities can vary depending on the location or the day’s needs. Some of the primary responsibilities of a school nurse often include the following:

  • Providing first aid and emergency care for students
  • Administering prescribed medications and treatments
  • Monitoring the health and development of students, including conducting screenings and assessments
  • Collaborating with other school staff, such as teachers and counselors, to promote overall student health and well-being
  • Serving as a resource for students and families who may not have access to regular medical care or information, such as sex education
  • Keeping accurate and up-to-date medical records for each student
  • Working with at-risk students to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

The work environment for school nurses can vary depending on the type of school in which they work, including traditional public or private school settings, specialized schools such as charter schools, or alternative education programs. Regardless of the school location or type, school nurses will likely be required to respond to medical emergencies as needed.

Steps to Become a School Nurse

An aspiring school nurse must become a licensed registered nurse and complete significant training to work in a school with children and address various health conditions. School nurses often operate alone without the support of other health care practitioners. Because of this, it’s critical that their training prepares them to function as the only medical resource for an entire student population. Anyone wondering how to become a school nurse will find that, in general, there are four main steps in the process.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

School nurses typically begin their career journey by obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a degree in a related field. Many prospective nurses focus on courses in biology or psychiatry. A BSN teaches aspiring nurses the fundamentals of how to care for patients from childhood to old age. Those seeking to become a school nurse must earn a bachelor’s degree to meet certain certification exam requirements.

While not always required, earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), can help individuals expand their knowledge and skill set and position them for leadership roles. Depending on the program, an MSN may also lead to specialization in a particular area of nursing, such as the pediatric nurse practitioner role, which aspiring school nurses may find particularly relevant.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse

To become certified as a school nurse, individuals must first become a registered nurse (RN). Nurses will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing the exam demonstrates that an individual has adequate training and knowledge to practice without supervision from other health care professionals, which is especially vital for school nurses.

Step 3: Gain Nursing Experience

After earning a nursing degree, gaining sufficient experience is essential. This could involve working as an RN in a hospital or alternative health care setting. In addition to providing a foundation of practical knowledge, on-the-job experience can help individuals decide if a career as a school nurse is right for them. For those seeking to become a school nurse, it’s worth exploring roles that allow them to work directly with children.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

While not necessary in every state or with every employer, school nurses should consider gaining certification that demonstrates their dedication to the profession while also showing their expertise and experience.

The National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN) administers the nationally certified school nurse (NSCN) certification to registered nurses who can meet the requirements. The NBCSN requires nurses to have a valid RN license, a BSN or higher, 1,000 hours of clinical experience within the past three years, and a passing score on the certification test to become an NCSN.

Once nurses have received their certification, they will need to undergo recertification every five years to show they’ve remained current with the latest knowledge and trends in school nursing. Applicants must pay applicable fees, submit a copy of their RN license, receive a passing score on the most current certification test, and submit evidence of 2,000 hours of clinical experience in school nursing and employment in school health or a related profession to renew their NCSN certification.

School Nurse Salary

The median annual salary for school nurses is approximately $50,600, according to November 2022 data from the compensation website Payscale. However, several factors can affect a school nurse’s salary, such as the type of school, region, and years of experience. Holding an advanced degree can also increase potential bargaining power with an employer for nurses seeking a higher salary.

Pursue an Advanced Nursing Degree to Help Students in Need

School nurses can positively impact the lives of many children and their communities. Because of the high value placed on students’ health and well-being and the potential long-term impact of their work, becoming a school nurse requires significant training and certification. Those who wish to undertake this career should consider the benefits of the Regis College online Master of Science in Nursing program.

As part of the MSN program, Regis College offers the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner concentration, allowing you to pursue a career providing advanced care to children and their families. The flexibility of an online program means you can continue to work while earning your degree.

Discover how you can have a positive impact on children’s lives with Regis College.

Recommended Readings

Childhood Obesity Effects and Nursing Intervention

Guide to Mental Health Screening in Schools

What Impact Does Parental Mental Health Have on Children?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “School Nurses Help Keep Students Healthy”

Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, 2018-2019 National Survey of Children’s Health

GBAO Strategies, “Poll Results: Stress and Burnout Pose Threat of Educator Shortages”

Gebauer, “The Role of the School Nurse: What They Do”

Indeed, “The Pros and Cons of Being a School Nurse”

National Association of School Nurses, Education, Licensure, and Certification of School Nurses

National Board for Certification of School Nurses, Examination

Payscale, Average School Nurse SalaryU.S. Census Bureau, “Uninsured Rate of U.S. Children Fell to 5.0% in 2021”