They hear the heartfelt stories of older adults who haven’t seen family in months. They listen to grandparents who talk about their grandchildren and the hugs they’ve missed. And they sense the despair of those who long for Sunday church services or gatherings with friends and who have felt isolated and alone throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since January, students from the William Preston Turner School of Nursing at Lander University have been part of the COVID-19 vaccination effort under way at Self Regional Medical Center, and they’ve experienced the gratitude of people who are beginning to feel hope for a more normal life.
Dr. Paula Haynes, assistant dean of the Turner School of Nursing, said the medical center contacted Lander in December to find out if students could assist their staff with the vaccinations. The request came as national policymakers and healthcare professionals, realizing there could be a shortage of people to administer coronavirus vaccines, called on medical and nursing students to assist in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
“This is a massive effort for our community, state and nation,” said Haynes, who recruited students from her Nursing 417, Community Health Nursing Course, for the vaccination rollout with Self. “We were able to develop a plan so that our nursing students would be ready to go when they returned to campus in January.”
That plan included providing training for administering the vaccinations and the safety protocols required, Haynes said. “Our students responded quickly and were eager to learn and serve.”
Rosalind Carrell, a senior nursing major from McCormick, said her heart goes out to vaccination recipients. “People want to have some sort of normalcy in their lives again, especially the older people we’ve seen. Because they’re more at risk, they have been isolated, and it’s affecting the physical and emotional health of many.”
Estelle Cloete, a senior nursing major from Greenville, said her clinical experience at the vaccination clinic has been her favorite experience in nursing. “It’s been a joy to serve the community, and the nurses and pharmacists we’ve worked with have been awesome.”
She said that a few people have expressed apprehension about getting vaccinated, but “most who come are very excited to get the vaccine. After many months, they are feeling hopeful that their lives can change.”
Lander students commit to working in the vaccination clinic at Self for 30 hours. When this phase of the program ends in April for Haynes’ class, 27 Lander nursing students, in collaboration with their faculty members, will have contributed nearly 1,000 hours to the vaccination effort.
Dr. Holisa Wharton, dean of the Turner School of Nursing, said having students on the frontlines of care is important to their education and the University’s commitment to community service. “As dean, I am proud of our nursing students and faculty for their service to the community during the pandemic.”
She cited a national campaign by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to involve nursing schools in efforts for the vaccination program.
“Most schools of nursing in South Carolina are taking part in some way in the efforts to fight COVID,” Wharton said. “Fortunately, our school of nursing has had a longstanding partnership with the hospital for our students to be involved in clinical education there. That was beneficial, too, in making this work.
“Lander’s involvement in the vaccination effort has been fantastic,” said Dr. Stephanie A. Smith, the vaccine coordinator at Self.
“It is wonderful to see an interdisciplinary approach to the vaccination effort. While our staff are being overwhelmed with COVID patients in the hospital, it is critical that student nurses are able to step in and help fill in those vital roles,” she said.
“Students have been able to gain hands-on experience while helping our clinic run smoothly. We have enjoyed having them here to learn along with us,” said Smith, a critical care clinical pharmacist. “I have been really impressed with their maturity and professionalism in their interactions with the vaccine recipients.”
Britteny Britton, a senior from Augusta, Ga., said the experience is rewarding. “We are helping so many people at a very serious time in our nation.”
She also sees their work as historic. “We are part of the future. This is something we will tell our children about and our grandchildren. What nursing students are doing now will be in textbooks one day,” she said. “I can say that we helped our community and were part of the solution to ending the pandemic.”