An Historic Moment for Nursing Students

By Nancy Spector, PhD, RN, FAAN, Director, Regulatory Innovations, NCSBN
Posted 04/01/2021
Now that the U.S. has moved into the vaccine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an unprecedented and urgent need for qualified personnel across the country to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccines. Many medical professionals have stepped up to volunteer their skills and expertise.

 Karly Schmitz, prelicensure student at UIC College of Nursing, Springfield campus, Photo by University of Illinois ChicagoThe pandemic has presented many challenges to nursing education, particularly related to providing quality clinical experiences because many clinical facilities closed their doors to nursing students. However, it has presented many opportunities as well. Now that we have effective COVID-19 vaccines, nursing students have been participating in the massive, national public health vaccination effort. Let’s take a look at a few exemplars.

The Western Kentucky University (WKU) School of Nursing has provided their nursing students with an unprecedented opportunity to administer vaccinations to the public during this pandemic. I spoke with Mary Bennett, DNS, APRN-FNP, director of the School of Nursing and Allied Health in Bowling Green, Kentucky, about their experience with students vaccinating people.

The WKU School of Nursing is located on the Bowling Green Medical Center campus, and the vaccination clinic is operating in the WKU School of Nursing reception area, at times occupying some of their classrooms. This is an active clinic that vaccinates from 800–1,200 people daily, seven days a week, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The WKU faculty has aligned this experience with their medical-surgical course objectives, finding that it assisted the students to become competent in giving intramuscular injections (IM), benefitted the community by staffing clinics and helped students improve their communication skills. To prepare for this experience, the WKU faculty created a PowerPoint presentation to refresh the skills of the students for giving IMs and educating them on the vaccine. Additionally, they included YouTube videos and evidence-based articles from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Tracy Jenkins, RN, DNP, CNE, a faculty member at WKU, coordinated the student vaccine administration efforts, including development of the teaching materials.

WKU Nursing student Preston Palmer helped administer COVID-19 vaccines to Bowling Green Med Center Health employeesBennett says that the students have been very grateful for this vaccination experience. Despite the pandemic and the pivot to online learning, Andi Barefoot, a WKU nursing student who enthusiastically participated in vaccinating patients, said, “I think it’s really been a blessing in disguise. We became health care workers in the middle of a health crisis.” According to Jenkins, “This has really pulled our community together, showing that we are all interconnected. I am so proud of our students, faculty and nurses at WKU!”

In another part of the country, prelicensure nursing students at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), gave some of the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the city at HSHS St. John’s Hospital. The UIC students vaccinated nearly 600 people on Jan. 28, 2021, including front-line workers at HSHS St. John’s Hospital and people from the community who were 65 or older. Their clinical instructor, Jennie Van Schyndel, PhD, RN, said, “Students were able to see how much effort it is for a health care organization to organize and efficiently carry out mass vaccination clinics. They saw how hospital managers volunteered their time to be there and support the efforts. They interacted with senior citizens who came on a cold and icy day — many who thought they had won the lottery by being able to get their first dose.” Van Schyndel also noted that students gained valuable clinical experience in the vaccination clinic, interacting with older adults, educating them on the vaccine, making appointments, assessing them post-vaccination, and listening to their health histories and medications.

One UIC student, Presches Keck, said she had not previously given an IM, though she had practiced it in the simulation lab. However, she said she quickly became adept at it after giving 40 injections back-to-back. “You would have thought it was Christmas for many of them. It was nice to be a part of that moment for so many people,” Keck said. Another UIC prelicensure student, Karly Schmitz, shared a heartwarming story: “I remember one individual in particular who told me she was so grateful to be getting the vaccine with her husband that day because they had lost their son to COVID a few months ago.” This is an experience that these nursing students will never forget.