Teaching Partners

School Nurse Certificate Addresses Shortage

Applying bandage to child's knee

“It is imperative to have a school nurse, especially with the tremendous increase in students’ various and sometimes life-threatening allergies as well as the increase in the number of students with diabetes and other chronic health conditions,” says Mary Sussman (MEd ’94), who teaches at Friendship Junior High School in Des Plaines, Ill.

Yet there aren’t enough licensed school nurses across the nation, a problem expected to worsen locally as many school nurses retire over the next five years. To help address the shortage, the College of Education (COE) and DePaul’s School of Nursing (SON) created a certificate program that takes just nine months to prepare registered nurses with bachelor’s degrees to sit for the state licensure exam.

“School nursing is attractive for nurses who want a more family-friendly schedule,” says Roxanne Owens, associate professor and chair of teacher education, who developed the certificate in conjunction with James Wolfinger, COE associate dean, and Matthew Sorenson, SON director. Gloria E. Barrera, a SON adjunct faculty member and certified school nurse at Downers Grove (Ill.) South High School, developed the program’s nursing course. She notes that while nurses in hospitals and clinical settings usually see patients for only a short period of time, school nurses are able to provide “continuity of nursing care and make an impact on the health and well-being of their students.”

“It’s a natural marriage of the two colleges,” she continues. “The professional educator license parallels teacher licensure in Illinois. It’s clear why DePaul, being at the forefront of nursing and education, would jump at this opportunity to launch a school nurse certificate program.”

One of my primary roles is to protect and promote student health … and ensure that they are ready to learn.”
 –Gloria Barrera, adjunct faculty member, DePaul School of Nursing

To earn the certificate, nurses take four online courses and complete an internship at a K–12 school. The first course is an introduction to the role of school nurses, and the remaining three cover state-required educational concepts such as working with students who are bilingual or who have special education needs. Participants spend their final quarter in a 300-hour internship supervised by a nurse at a school in their area. After they complete the internship, students are eligible to take the exam for the Professional Educator License, a requirement for Illinois school nurses.

The program’s pace and flexibility make it attractive. “Nurses can continue their existing jobs while they complete the online courses. The online classes aren’t synchronous, so they can work at their own pace and don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time,” Owens explains. “Because the courses are online, registered professional nurses from anywhere in Illinois can earn this certificate.”

Barrera says that being a school nurse is rewarding. “School nurses are the health experts in a school. There are no other health care providers with our credentials and education. We are the health advocates, the leaders and the people responsible for promoting health in the school setting.”

For more information about the school nurse certificate, visit School Nurse Certificate or contact Owens at rowens@depaul.edu. ​