HUNTINGTON PARK, Calif. – From headaches to stomachaches and administering medication, the nurse’s office at Nimitz Middle School is a revolving door of students.
“Do you feel dizzy,” Monique Espinoza Rodriguez asks the student standing at her desk.
Rodriguez originally saw herself working in a hospital setting but, as a mother of two, found being a school nurse gives her the flexibility her family needs.
“So I have the vacation, which is the summer off, December, Thanksgiving," Rodriguez said.
Time off is one of the selling points Dr. Bryan Johnson often mentions to prospective candidates. Right now he is in non-stop recruitment mode.
"We have about 70 nursing vacancies," Dr. Johnson said, "and we’re looking to hire at least that this year.”
The goal, laid out in the collective bargaining agreement early this year, is to have a full-time nurse at every school campus within three years. But the prognosis isn't good.
“It’s going to be a challenge to meet the goal," Dr. Johnson said.
It is a math problem. Dr. Johnson says there simply aren’t enough nurses to fill the positions – at the Los Angeles Unified School District or anywhere.
“We’re actually facing a nursing shortage in the state of California," Dr. Johnson said. "In the next 10 years supply is not going to do anything to meet demand for nurses in the state of California and the Los Angeles Unified School District is no exception."
Still, he says, the district is trying. They are holding large scale recruitment events and looking to partner with nurse training programs to offer clinical rotations in school settings.
“So that students can get a taste of what it’s like to be a school nurse in our schools," Dr. Johnson said.
But even if they can hire them, keeping them is another issue. School nurses must earn a special credential and currently there are about 150 nurses in the district who haven’t gotten it yet. Rodriguez is one of them.
“When you get hired you get your preliminary credentials," Rodriguez said. "Within five years you do have to complete the credentials.”
If they don’t complete their credentials they are out. Rodriguez is planning to start the year-long program next fall at a cost of close to $10,000. She thinks it is worth it if it means she can continue doing what she loves, not just being a school nurse, but also being a role model.
“The students say, 'Miss, you are real nurse,'" Rodriguez said. "I tell them 'Yes and you guys can be one too. You guys just have to stick to it and finish high school and go to college.'"
Advice she hopes to keep administering to students for years to come.
To apply for one of the school nurse positions, click here.