School-based health care: where health and education intersect

School-based health care is a powerful tool for achieving health equity among children and adolescents who unjustly experience disparities in outcomes simply because of their race, ethnicity, or family income. It’s also a commonsense idea gaining currency across the country: place critically needed services like medical, behavioral, dental, and vision care directly in schools so that all young people, no matter their zip code, have equal opportunity to learn and grow.

Ensuring that students have access to high-quality health care when they need it

School-Based Health Center. Telehealth. Wellness Center.  Adolescent Clinic. Health Resource Center. Mobile Clinic. 

Different labels, common purpose. Each of these innovative delivery models represents a partnership between schools and community health organizations. Their objective: give students meaningful access to care in a location that is safe and convenient. Whether onsite, mobile or through telehealth, various health care professionals collaborate with schools to address the broad range of concerns and adverse experiences that affect students’ healthy development.

The “who” of the care team may vary based on the complexity of students’ needs and community resources availability. Some sites may have a lone primary care practitioner. Others offer a robust array of medical, nursing, and mental health staff — even oral and eye health. No matter the configuration, the team brings its expertise, resources, and authority to improve students’ physical, social, emotional, and behavioral health.

“I hear great stories about kids and teens who would miss days and days of school and are now able to be successful. I have had former patients that are in college or have their own families that were in my school health practice and I still hear from them. They say, ‘you made a difference, and I was able to complete school because of you.’” – Patti Scott, former school health care administrator

A shared vision to improve student success is key

Successful school-health partnerships share a common vision — that of young citizens thriving in the classroom and beyond. By integrating into the education environment, school-based health care contributes directly to the school’s mission and delivers outcomes that matter to educators — such as reduced student absenteeism. Collaboration with school administrators, school nurses,* teachers, and support staff ensures the school-health partnership meets student needs efficiently, effectively, and seamlessly.

“Our approach to care for children is unique and different, and lends itself to improved outcomes.” – Dr. Veda Johnson, Founder, Whitefoord Elementary school health center, Atlanta

A win-win proposition for communities

When students access health care in schools, they benefit because they don’t have to travel to find a physician… or counselor… or dentist. Parents benefit because they don’t have to take a day off of work. Schools benefit because students spend more time in the classroom. And employers benefit because parents don’t have to miss a day of work.

CDC Virtual School-Based Health Center

Still have questions? Want to experience a cool, virtual version of the school-based health care model? We’ve got you covered. SBHA helped the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) design a virtual SBHC as part of their Virtual Healthy School program. The CDC Virtual Healthy School (VHS) is an online, interactive school that provides innovative learning experiences to help create a healthier school. Be sure to click on “health center” to experience the wonder of school-based health care first-hand!

Learn More/Measure Up

Core competencies: Veteran practitioners have outlined seven core school health care competencies—the knowledge, expertise, policies, practices, and attributes—essential to supporting student wellness.

Census: Learn about the geographic distribution of models, staffing profiles, student demographics, and community partnerships from the only national school-based health care database

Performance measures: Discover the five leading quality indicators that constitute the national school-based health care performance dataset

Literature database: Explore school-based health care’s well established evidence base in our virtual library.

School-Based Health Care State Policy Survey: Check out the most recent state-level public policies and activities that promote the growth and sustainability of SBHCs.

*The school nurse is the building’s health ambassador, on the frontline for day-to-day oversight and management of the school population’s health. School-based health care complements the work of school nurses by providing a readily accessible referral site for students who are without a medical home or in need of more comprehensive services such as primary, mental, oral, or vision health care.