A Watershed Year for School Nurses

The greater the crisis, it seems, the swifter the evolution (Elizabeth Gilbert, 2007).

School nurses in action!

Since the onset of the COVID-19 virus in January 2020, school nurses are proving they are up for the challenge as the practice of school nursing evolves.  This pandemic year will be one that is long remembered with school nurses doing what they do best; adapting to an ever-changing environment, optimizing scarce resources, and using innovative ideas to activate the nursing process for students who are learning in a remote environment. 

School nurses, who typically work in a very hands-on environment, are pivoting to identify challenges students face in accessing remote learning, providing remote care coordination, and mitigating risk factors that impede a safe return to school for in-person learning.  School nurses are reaching across sectors to work with state and local officials to assess and monitor the health status of the community, and identify community needs and assets.  We are developing and strengthening partnerships to support public health interventions in our school communities and in the community-at-large. 

In Chinese, crisis is composed of two characters; one represents danger, the other opportunity (John Kennedy, 1959).  School nurses are seizing the opportunity to reduce the danger through policy development and interventions that bring health equity to at-risk student populations.  School nurses connect with families to provide meals and mental health support to students accessing education from their home environments. School nurses now recognize that virtual school nursing is a model that can serve the health and education of remote learners beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the national level, the National Association of School Nurses has worked in several areas to support students, communities, and school nurse members as well as non-members:

  • The media has reached out to NASN in record numbers, resulting in 200+ media interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an opportunity to portray an accurate narrative about student health needs and school nursing practice.
  • NASN successfully advocated for funding for school nurse positions in underserved communities. The American Rescue Plan provides $500M for local health departments to hire school nurses and funding that school districts may use to hire additional school nurses to support the health and well-being of students, including the immediate and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on youth.
  • The NASN Board of Directors formed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Task Force to explore ways in which NASN can increase DEI within its organizational leadership to better support the diverse students and communities we serve.
  • NASN’s strategic plan calls for our organization to pursue health, education, and social equity for students through shared leadership, clearly aligning our organization with the Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity.
  • Healthy environments support our quality of life, environment, and the economy. The National Association of School Nurses is working diligently to support and encourage school nurses to advocate for healthy environments for our school communities and the community-at-large.

This has been a watershed year for recognition of the full scope of school nurse practice. The challenge moving forward is to keep the public, educators, and funders aware that school nursing services help keep students healthy, safe and ready to learn.

By Laurie Fleming, Lisa Patch, & Laurie Combe

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