When Amber Smith got the call for volunteers in her email inbox, she wasted no time responding: "Yes!"
"I could not pass it up," said Smith, a first-year nursing student at the San Jacinto College North Campus.
The opportunity was to help administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to employees and their family members at CHI St. Luke's Health Patients Medical Center, a San Jac clinical affiliate. Smith numbered among six current North Campus nursing students and one recent graduate who volunteered for vaccination shifts Jan. 5 at Patients Medical Center.
In early February, 15 North Campus nursing students returned to administer more vaccines.
As COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out to frontline health care workers and the public, North Campus faculty ensured their students got hands-on experience in the fight to stop the spread.
COVID-19 disrupted health care training in 2020, altering in-person classes and clinical rotations. But the pandemic also showed future nurses that health care, like education, evolves.
"The pandemic has allowed our students to see the changing dynamics of health care and to participate in those changes," said Kerri Hines, North Campus nursing department chair.
That's why Hines, nursing clinical coordinator Tyra Rideaux, and adjunct faculty member Debra Radomski were excited when Patients Medical Center reached out for nursing student volunteers to help administer a COVID-19 vaccine. They saw it as the perfect opportunity for students to apply their skills during a pandemic — something that wasn't possible a year earlier.
Although the spring semester hadn't started yet, Hines, Rideaux, and Radomski found seven student volunteers for the early January vaccination shifts. All had foundational nursing skills and experience giving intramuscular injections.
At Patients Medical Center, the chief nursing officer gave students an orientation, discussing CDC guidelines, Moderna vaccination protocols, and hospital policies. Afterward, students paired with staff RNs and Radomski, their San Jac faculty representative.
After observing a COVID-19 injection and administering one with supervision, they gave the vaccines on their own with back-up help available.
"This was a great opportunity for the College to maintain its positive rapport with the community and CHI St. Luke's Patients Medical Center," Radomski said.
Newcomers and overcomers
Smith jumped at the chance to lend her skills to the cause. The aspiring neonatal nurse has a heart for helping others during COVID-19 and beyond.
"It was a great experience, and I cannot wait to be able to get more volunteer opportunities to give back to the community and learn skills to become a great nurse," she said.
Also volunteering was second-year nursing student Loren Tijerina. While she has missed some on-site clinical experiences because of COVID-19, Tijerina says San Jac has offset these losses with realistic simulation training. After becoming an RN, she plans to pursue her bachelor's degree in nursing while working.
"The pandemic has taught me to be strong overall and to continue to push for my dreams regardless of any obstacles in my path," she said.
And Tijerina is all about overcoming obstacles: "I am a part of history in the making by administering the COVID vaccine!"