By Mary Ellen Ostrander
Back to school for the kids often means endless paperwork for parents. There’s one for the front office, one for the business office, one for the sports department, one for the guidance office, and— Oh, my gosh!—one for the school nurse. If this form often falls to the bottom of your “to do” pile, dig it out and fill it out. Doing so may save your child’s life.
The health-medical form, along with other relevant health forms, needs to be filled out and handed in every year. Why? Your child’s medical situation may have changed since last year and the school nurse needs this updated information in case your child ends up in her office.
Rest assured that whatever you place on this form will be held in the strictest confidence by the school nurse who must abide by Hippa, a law designated to protect your student’s privacy. The health form asks for information that is not to be shared nor needs to be shared without your permission. If this information is shared, that will be done only when it is appropriate for the well being of the student.
The health form will specifically ask for current contact for you and the person or persons that you delegate to cover if the school nurse is unable to reach you. It is imperative that names, phone numbers (including cell phone numbers), and e-mail addresses, be legible. Yes, I have been able to contact a parent in Africa, who meticulously and clearly filled out the form, but not the spouse a few blocks from the school, whose contact information was unreadable!
The health form has an area for your child’s health history, including physical concerns as well as emotional and social issues. If filled out completely and correctly, sharing this information with the school nurse can benefit your student. A visit to the nurse does not seem to carry the stigma that often accompanies a visit to the school psychologist. Often a child ends up in the nurse’s office when having a bad day and needing a safe haven. The more the nurse knows about your child, the better able she will be able to console and help. The information that you provide gives the nurse insight that might help her help your child develop coping strategies. Your information might assist in a referral, if appropriate, to another specialist in the school.
Reporting on the health form (and giving the nurse) any emergency medications can make a big difference if your child experiences a serious health problem while in school. The allergy and asthma action plan, yet another form, states the medical care plan outlined by your pediatrician or medical specialist. If your school nurse or doctor doesn’t offer such a form, you can obtain one online by typing in the appropriate action plan you need. It is one sure way to guarantee that the all health care providers can work as team to maintain your student in school and learning.
At the bottom of the health form, you may list the over the counter medications (Tylenol, Advil, for example) you will allow the nurse to adminster to your child. All over the counter medication must be approved and signed by the parent and then cosigned by the physician. Without this the school nurse may not even apply ointment to a student’s scraped knee.
Your pediatrician will need to fill out a section on the back of the health form that not only records his physical assessment for your child, but also lists the vaccines that are mandated by the state. Be aware that your child may not be permitted to attend school if he has not had one or more of these required vaccines.
If your student is in middle school, you may be asked to complete another form to allow him to carry and administer certain rescue medications on his own. These medications may include asthma inhalers and or Epi Pen. Remember, this form must be filled out and signed by a parent and your child’s doctor and approved by the school nurse in order to give your child this option. The school nurse has protocols in place that all parties must agreed to, but the parent and student are accepting responsibility for this independence.
School trips also trigger forms, one at the beginning of the year and specific ones throughout the year to cover each trip. The annual form gives the basic information, but each time your child goes off campus, you need to give your permission and remind the school nurse of any health concerns, particularly if your child’s health situation has changed in any way. Where your child is concerned, there is no such thing as TMI (too much information). The school also has a legal requirement to obtain your permission and to document the exact time and place the trip is taking place.
So as summer fades and school approaches it is time for most parents to settle down to do some important and necessary homework. The work you do can facilitates your child stay comfortable in school and you at work or play.
Mary Ellen Ostrander, R.N., is a school nurse in Brooklyn.