Are school nurses in New Jersey not paid enough?
Several states throughout the country have been battling with severe shortages of school nurses over the past few years.
In New Jersey, the problem isn't as dire.
While you could refer to the Garden State's situation as a "shortage," it looks different than what's unfolding in other states such as California, where schools have become so desperate, they've partnered with health care organizations to fill the void.
"In New Jersey we do have a certified school nurse in every public school," said Lorraine Borek, president of the New Jersey State School Nurses Association.
But filling those roles as they become available may not be the easiest task.
State code in New Jersey requires a post-bachelor's degree certification for school nurses. But, Borek noted, that's not what's keeping people away from the field. In fact, the requirement creates a class of well-prepared, well-educated to handle a growing list of roles and responsibilities.
"The actual starting salary sometimes creates a problem for people to enter this specialty area," Borek said.
According to Borek, a good number of individuals who enter the school nursing field have previous experience in an acute care or clinical setting, with decent pay. A school nurse, however, typically enters the job at an entry-level teacher's salary.
"So people wanting to be a school nurse typically have to be prepared to take a financial hit. That does somewhat contribute to the shortage," she said.
According to the New Jersey Education Association, the average starting salary for a school teacher in the 2016-2017 academic year was $51,502. Most districts in New Jersey, in their current contracts, have negotiated a starting salary of at least $50,000.
For the most part, nurses work on the same salary guide as teachers, and their pay is bound to increase over time.
Borek added that pay can be as little as $100 per day for substitutes.
Beyond pay, Borek noted there's a limited number of individuals — even with the proper certification — who are prepared to take on the demanding, sensitive role of a school nurse — a role that typically functions independently from the rest of the building.
"We are the only person who's there and you have to be able to function at a high level of independence," she said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.