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A Partnership for Wellbeing

School nurses and school counselors both have important roles to play in the lives of K-12 students. They each strive to ensure that students are both physically and mentally healthy, but they cannot do it alone. These professionals have overlapping responsibilities and often interact with the same students, creating a need for effective collaboration between them. Through frequent communication, holistically coordinated care, and combining their joint expertise, school counselors and nurses can synergistically provide students with the support and care they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

School counselors are certified/licensed educators, who, as defined by the American School Counselor Association, “work to maximize student success, promoting access and equity for all students.”  Similar to school nurses, school counselors are tasked with an array of responsibilities intended to help improve the lives of their students, both in and out of school.  They identify behaviors that interfere with school performance, apply academic achievement strategies, serve the social and emotional needs of the students, teach about specific topics affecting the school community, act as student advocates, and collaborate with families, school personnel, and community resources for student success.

According to a 2015 article in Psychology in the Schools, mental health concerns occupy up to 35 percent of school nurses’ time and are often hidden beneath physical complaints including headaches and stomaches.  For these students, school nurses must be cognizant of underlying reasons for visiting the health office or avoiding class, and be equipped to provide basic assessment and early intervention.  Evidence has shown that interprofessional collaboration on student mental health services positively impacts student mental health outcomes, and with mental health concerns among youth on the rise, coordinating a comprehensive approach to support and care for student mental health is essential now, more than ever.

By understanding the types of services each role provides and recognizing the differences in professional training and expertise, nurses and counselors can readily supplement the other, as needed.  Successful collaboration between the school nurse and the school counselor requires ongoing communication and consultation which may include regularly scheduled meetings to discuss anything from upcoming screenings or students identified in need of financial assistance for things like glasses or medical supplies, to chronic illness, transitions back to school, frequent flyers, and school violence.

School counseling and school nursing are both helping professions, lending their partnership to being a robust platform for collaboration that best serves all students.  With complementary roles, each functions both independently and concurrently to facilitate and maintain student mental and physical health, while optimizing a student’s ability to learn.

Shop MacGill’s Mental Health Library here.

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