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School Nurses: Advocates for Children’s Eye Health

Donna Mazyck, Executive Director, National Association of School Nurses (U.S.)

The past two years have challenged children and educators in profound ways. While much of the attention has focused on the implications of COVID-19 on children’s education, it is important to recognize that children’s health has also suffered, especially with limited access to school-based health services.


In many countries, school nurses are frontline advocates for students’ health and often are first to notice when a child is having a health issue. While school health services may not be available globally, the topic of non-parental adults advocating for children’s health is universal, no matter the role.


We recently had the privilege of interviewing Donna to hear her perspective on the importance of school nurses as advocates for children and their health. For 28 years, Donna’s practice has been school health, having started her career as a high school nurse. We also spoke with her in March about the effects of school disruptions on children’s vision. She now offers these invaluable insights.


FOR THOSE READERS WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH IN-SCHOOL HEALTH CARE SERVICES, TELL US ABOUT THE ROLE OF SCHOOL NURSES, HOW THEY SUPPORT LEARNING IN SCHOOLS AND HOW YOUR ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS THEM?


Mazcyk: School nurses support student learning in multiple ways. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) in the US developed the Framework for 21st Century School Nursing Practice to drive student-centered, evidence-based school nursing practice. The key principles of the Framework highlight the role of school nurses:

  • To increase student access to learning by providing care coordination for students with chronic health conditions and those who have sudden, short-term health concerns.

  • To address the health and wellbeing of the entire student population through health promotion and disease prevention. In working with the student population, school nurses provide health screenings and follow up to intervene early on potential health barriers to learning.

In essence, school nurses are leaders who identify health concerns of students and advocate for systems-level changes that promote a culture of health in school communities. In their work, school nurses seek continuous quality improvement as they use data to evaluate their work and outcomes for students. School nurses use standards of practice to guide their thoughts, decisions, and actions.


NURSES IN YOUR ASSOCIATION DEAL WITH ALL ASPECTS OF CHILDREN’S HEALTH. WHAT ARE YOU SPECIFICALLY HEARING ABOUT THE IMPACT THAT DIGITAL LEARNING IS HAVING ON CHILDREN’S VISION? ARE THERE ANY OUTCOMES THAT YOU FIND SURPRISING?


Mazcyk: School nurses have heard from families that students have experienced, and are experiencing, eye strain because of an increase in digital learning. In addition, many students who already wear glasses did not have the opportunity to see their eye care professional for the same reasons routine vaccinations were not obtained – limited visits to healthcare providers during the height of the pandemic.


ARE THERE EXAMPLES YOU COULD SHARE TO ILLUSTRATE HOW SCHOOL NURSES ARE RESPONDING TO THE VISION CARE NEEDS OF CHILDREN IN LIGHT OF THE INCREASED DIGITAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT?


Mazcyk: Yes – I’ve heard stories of school nurses making appointments for students and families to come to the school for vision screening, even though students were not learning in-person. These one- on-one vision screening opportunities enabled school nurses, students, and families to connect and make plans for student care.


HOW CAN SCHOOL NURSES BEST SUPPORT FAMILIES WHEN IT COMES TO ENSURING THEIR CHILDREN CAN SEE WELL? AND VICE VERSA, HOW DO FAMILIES BEST SUPPORT THEIR SCHOOL NURSES?


Mazcyk: School nurses can support parents/families in recognizing signs that their children may have changes in visual acuity or eye strain. Signs such as squinting eyes, sitting close to a device, excessive eye rubbing, and complaints of headache may indicate a concern with how children are seeing. Vision and eye health should be addressed early in a child’s life. Once a child is in school, early identification is critical for student learning and wellbeing in childhood and beyond.


Parents and families, in turn, can ask if their schools have a school nurse. If no school nurse is assigned to the school, parents and families can advocate for school health services by school nurses.


WHEN IT COMES TO CHILDREN’S EYE HEALTH, IT TAKES A CONCERTED EFFORT FROM ALL OF US. HOW CAN COMMUNITIES GET INVOLVED IN SUPPORTING SCHOOL NURSES?


Mazcyk: Partnerships with community organizations and providers is a way in which the community can support school health services by school nurses for all students. School health services is an equity issue for students.

    

EACH YEAR, THE SCHOOL NURSES ASSOCIATION IN THE U.S. CELEBRATES SCHOOL NURSES DAY. THIS YEAR, THE THEME CENTERED ON CREATING AWARENESS OF THE NEED FOR NURSES TO BECOME MORE ACTIVE AND VOCAL IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION. HOW CAN NURSES, PARENTS, AND TEACHERS ALIKE BE BETTER ADVOCATES WHEN IT COMES TO CHILDREN’S VISION?


Mazcyk: We must work together. Children’s health is a challenge that all of us have a stake in. Working collectively to facilitate a comprehensive approach to student vision and eye health requires the collaboration of school nurses, parents/families, teachers, and other stakeholders who focus on the health and wellbeing of students.


With 80% of all learning occurring visually, the role of school nurses is even more important in making the connection between vision and learning. School nurses and their associations, like those that Donna leads, are key to ensuring that our children have the best possible environment in which to learn. They often serve as a child’s first vision advocate and as a reminder to all of us to stand in the gap for children everywhere.

 

Donna J. Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE, FNASN, is the Executive Director of the National School Nurses Association (NASN) in the U.S. She began working at NASN in 2011. For 28 years, her focus has been school health, beginning as a high school nurse. She also served as a state school nurse consultant for the Maryland State Department of Education, as well as President of the National Association of School Nurses from 2007-2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science degree in Counseling from Loyola University Maryland.