June is Prevent Blindness America’s Vision Research Month. The national organization has provided over $500,000 to eye safety and disease studies through its Investigator Awards Program. But beyond that, the national organization has worked tirelessly to promote awareness over the past decade. In 2003, Prevent Blindness America entered a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control that has furthered public education and partnerships with individual state public health departments.
If you’re interested in learning more about the programs implemented by affiliates such as Prevent Blindness Georgia’s Adult Demonstration Project that trains workers at senior centers to screen for eye problems or Prevent Blindness Tennessee’s vision symposium, you can check out PBA’s “Working to Advance Public Health, Vision and Eye Care in the US”.
However, today, I thought I would share with you about a project we have here at Prevent Blindness Iowa that combines research with community action. We are currently contacting school districts across Iowa in an attempt to find out how they conduct vision screenings in their district.
Over the past week, I’ve successfully contacted 30 school districts (about 10% of all districts statewide) with a few simple questions for the school nurse. We want to know at what grade levels they screen, what kind of equipment they use (charts or machines), what kind of screening they do (distance, near, and/or color), if they receive help from any outside sources, and most importantly, would the nurses be interested in further education on the topic of vision screenings in schools.
As you might imagine, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. First off, there are more school districts in the state with a total enrollment of less than 1,000 students than there are districts with an enrollment of over 1,000 (240 districts vs. 117 districts). Maybe this only surprises me because I grew up in Des Moines where one high school has more than 1,000 students, but I digress.
Of the 30 districts I’ve spoken with, only one (and a very tiny one at that) does not provide vision screenings. The majority of sampled districts provide screening at multiple elementary grades, and many larger districts own their own screening machhine (usually a Keystone or a Titmus).
Several districts receive help with vision screening, in particular for pre-schoolers, from their local Lion’s Club, and some districts receive assistance from their AEA.
Over 70% of nurses I’ve spoken with are interested in further education although many are concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get off of work to attend training. One nurse informed me that many school nurses are nurse’s associates rather than a R.N., so it would be beneficial to provide training for both groups.
As we get in touch with more districts, Prevent Blindness Iowa will try to determine what the best course of action is to ensure that school nurses are properly trained to vision screen students. Our local research may not work to find the cause and cure for eye diseases like the research Prevent Blindness America supports nationally, but we hope our findings will have a significant impact on the wellbeing of schoolchildren in our state and the knowledge of our school nurses.