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History of America’s First School Nurse

Being employed as a school nurse is undoubtedly a very rewarding career path. After all, you work diligently to make sure that young students are healthy so that they can continue to go to school, earn their education, and move on to become successful adults. But while having school nurses is a vital and ingenious contribution to the school system, how did school nurses come about?

According to historians, a Canada-trained woman named Lina Rogers Struthers is credited as the first school nurse in America. She was assigned to work as a school nurse in four different lower Manhattan schools as solely an experiment in October 1902—officials wanted to see whether having a school nurse would improve student’s health and attendance. Despite the fact that she tended 10,000 students, Struthers presence unsurprisingly made a huge impact on improving the health of students. In fact, in just one month, the absentee rate of students in all four schools dropped dramatically. And by the six month mark, absenteeism fell by 90 percent, according to historians. The numbers were so astonishing that officials scoured up enough money to employ another 27 school nurses. By the end of 1914, there were as much as 400 school nurses in New York City alone. Noticing what an impact school nurses were having, other cities quickly followed pursuit. Los Angeles was one of the first cities to jump on the bandwagon; it hired its first school nurse in 1904.

America’s first school nurse helped evolve the responsibilities of school nurses even further after she wrote and published "The School Nurse"—a textbook on school nursing. In this textbook, which was published in 1917, she explicitly explained the importance of healthcare and stressed the importance of new practices such as home visits, proper nose-blowing and coughing techniques, washing of the hands and careful inspection of clothing and hair in regards to lice removal.

With the help of Struthers textbook, new hired school nurses aimed to improve not only student wellness, but also worked at disease prevention and health education for both the students and other family members in the community.

Struthers retired in 1914, but to this day her contributions have helped students stay healthier and keep more kids in classrooms.

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