‘It’s Not Easy’: School Nurse Pain Assessment Practices for Students with Special Needs

Brenna L. Quinn PhD, RN, NCSN

Assistant Professor, Susan & Alan Solomont School of Nursing, Email: Brenna_Quinn@uml.edu


Assessing pain in children with special needs presents unique challenges for school nurses, as no evidence-based or clinical standards to guide practices have been established for use in the school setting. Additionally, school nurse staffing has not kept pace with the growth in the population of children with special needs, which has increased by 60% since 2002. The aim of this study was to explore school nurses’ pain assessment practices for students with special needs. A cross-sectional study was conducted via the web. Participants/Subjects: Of 3,071 special needs school nurses invited, 27% participated (n = 825). STATA13 was used to analyze descriptive statistics, while content analysis was performed in NVIVO 10. The majority of participants assessed pain in students with special needs using objective assessments (97.34%) and consultations with teachers (91.09%) and parents (88.64%). School nurses utilize pain assessment methods used previously in other practice areas, and rated pain assessment practices at the low benchmark of adequate. Overall, school nurses assess pain by selecting approaches that are best matched to the abilities of the student with special needs. When assessing students with special needs, nurses should utilize objective clinical assessments, teacher consultations, and parent input scales. In addition to continuing education, policies facilitating lower nurse-to-student ratios are needed to improve pain assessment practices in the school setting. Research to understand the perspectives of nurses, teachers, parents, and students is needed to support the creation of evidence-based policies and procedures.

PMID: 27105572; DOI:10.1016/j.pmn.2016.01.005

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