Climate Change as a Priority for School Nurses

By Gloria E. Barrera, MSN, RN, PEL-CSN

“I’ve made it a priority to advocate for healthy environments, and raise awareness on climate change as a school nurse and nursing professor. One of my professional goals for this year, as I take on a leadership role within IASN as President, is to facilitate NASN becoming a member of the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health.  I respectfully proposed such to the NASN Board this month.  Together, we must work collaboratively on real solutions to address climate change, and its impact on health disparities for our most vulnerable populations. I was excited to see NASN’s position brief, adopted this past September, on climate change being a serious threat and present danger to the health, safety, well-being, and future of our nation’s children. As school nurses around the country, we already know and have witnessed that children are among the most vulnerable to climate change threats, especially those living in poverty, suffering from chronic diseases, and are otherwise disadvantaged.  I stress that a healthy environment is the key to a healthy life in my current practice, and teaching. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies asthma as a leading chronic illness and cause of absenteeism in school-aged children and adolescents.  I have noticed an increase in the amount of students with asthma year after year. On average, in a classroom of 30, about 3 students are likely to have a diagnosis of asthma. To address this concern, I have focused on ensuring better management of asthma in my school and on raising awareness and education about the impact of air quality on student health.  We know exposure to poor air quality impacts health by contributing to adverse outcomes such as premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory harm. Action to decrease air pollution is a public health priority to create healthy environments for all.  

I’ve been an active member of ANHE since 2016, and serve on both the Global Climate Change and Policy Committees.  I had the amazing opportunity to go to DC in June 2016 through ANHE, and met with elected officials to advocate for methane emission regulation to reduce air pollution from oil and gas production and other policies that would improve air quality for communities, especially for children in the Hispanic community.  The political influence, that I didn’t quite know we had as nurses, to speak about the climate change making us sick was empowering and is something that still motivates me today.

Through my teaching, I make it a point to note the critical nature of our environment and how we, as nurses, must advocate for our patients and the populations we serve. As the most trusted profession in the U.S., and at the forefront of school health, we must be in a position to be knowledgeable and credible on environmental health issues.

It is my vision to see this through, and I offer my experience to help in any way to facilitate NASN becoming an active member of the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health.”

ANHE is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here. 

This blog was originally posted on The Relentless School Nurse, and can be found here

Bio: Gloria E. Barrera, MSN, RN, PEL-CSN is a public health nurse leader, specialized in school nursing. She currently works as a certified school nurse at a public high school outside of Chicago.  Gloria is an Adjunct Professor of Nursing at several universities, most notably DePaul University, and her alma mater Saint Xavier University. Her leadership, and service has been recognized by several organizations both locally and nationally.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses-Illinois Chapter, is President Elect of the Illinois Association of School Nurses, and a proud member of ANA-Illinois, and APHA.  She’s been an active member of ANHE since 2016.  Gloria’s passion is public health nursing, and she is committed to continuing her efforts to improve child health outcomes in our most vulnerable populations through her practice, teaching, and advocacy.  You may connect with Gloria on LinkedIn @gloriaebarrera, and on Twitter @Barrera_Gloria.

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