The Changing Job of School Nurses during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Media Content Analysis of Contributions to Stress

Ashley A. Lowe, Priyanka Ravi, Lynn B. Gerald, Amanda M. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


School nurses and unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs) are essential to the health and wellness of school children. However, most US schools do not have a full-time licensed nurse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, school nurses and UAPs have been integral in ensuring that the health needs of students were met. They have seen a marked increase in their responsibilities included implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies, screening for symptoms, testing students and staff, conducting contact tracing and data collection, and ensuring the implementation of rapidly changing COVID-19 guidelines and protocols for schools. The objective of this study was to explore COVID-19 occupational changes and their contributions to stress among school nurses and UAPs through a content analysis of local and national media articles. A Google search of articles published between February 2020 and September 2021 was conducted using the following search terms: 'school nurse', 'COVID-19', 'health aide', 'stress', and 'experiences'. A search was also conducted in Nexis Uni. Articles were included if the topic discussed school nurses or UAPs and COVID-19. All articles that examined nurses in other settings were excluded from the review. We examined topics and themes temporally (from February 2020 to September 2021) and spatially (i.e. the frequency by US state). Overall, 496 media articles discussing school nurses and COVID-19 were included in our review. The highest volume of articles was from September 2021 (22%, 111/496). Other months with relatively high volume of articles included August 2020 (9%, 43/496), January 2021 (10%, 47/496), February 2021 (9%, 44/496), and August 2021 (8%, 39/496). These larger article volumes coincided with notable COVID-19 events, including returning to school in the fall (August 2020 and August 2021), school nurses assisting with vaccine rollouts among adults in the USA (January/February 2021), concerns regarding the delta variant (August/September 2021), and vaccine rollouts for children ages 12-15 (September 2021). The representation of articles spatially (national, state, regional, or local) was 66 (13%) articles at national level, 217 (44%) state level, 25 (5%) regional level, and 188 (38%) local news at the city and/or village level. Pennsylvania had the highest frequency of articles, but when standardized to the state population, Alaska had the highest rate of media per 100 000 people. Three major themes were identified in our analysis: (i) safety; (ii) pandemic-related fatigue/stress; and (iii) nursing shortage/budget. The most represented theme for articles before September 2021 was that of safety. Over time, the themes of pandemic-related fatigue/stress and nursing shortage/budget increased with the most notable increase being in September 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new occupational risks, burdens, and stressors experienced by school nurses and UAPs. School nurses play a critical role in disease surveillance, disaster preparedness, wellness and chronic disease prevention interventions, immunizations, mental health screening, and chronic disease education. Furthermore, they provide a safety net for our most vulnerable children. Given that school nurses were already over-burdened and under-resourced prior to the pandemic, characterization of these new burdens and stressors will inform emergency preparedness resources for school health personnel during future pandemics or outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-117
Number of pages17
JournalAnnals of Work Exposures and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2023


  • content analysis
  • emergency preparedness
  • pandemic
  • school nurse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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