In partnership with the Blue Ridge Health District and U.Va. Health, students at the School of Nursing have joined the COVID-19 relief effort by undergoing training on vaccine distribution and are signing up to administer the vaccine on a voluntary basis. Currently, almost 50 students actively volunteer at the clinic.
Emma McKim Mitchell, associate professor at the School of Nursing, has been heavily involved in the effort. According to Mitchell, the students have been “adapting beautifully” to the work and have been finding the experience very rewarding.
“Students feel like they have a tangible contribution and have the opportunity to volunteer in person,” Mitchell said.
The BRHD is one of 35 health districts operating under the Virginia Department of Health and has been the University's steadfast partner throughout the pandemic, working alongside them to distribute vaccines.
Nursing students go through the same training that vaccinators that work for the University did, which includes modules that explain the differences among vaccines and outlines protocols one must follow in distribution. In addition, students took part in a hands-on component with screening for safety and answering questions that patients might ask.
Students are oriented to the vaccine site — located in a former Big Lots store in Seminole Sqaure, students have dubbed it “Big Shots” — and are trained to properly document patients’ records and instruct them on the process upon their arrival. The training is incredibly comprehensive in order to ensure that students are “as ready as possible for these real-world experiences,” according to Mitchell.
While engaging in the training is a requirement for all students, volunteering to administer the vaccine was not. Participation was entirely voluntary, and students received course credit if they did decide to volunteer at the clinic, which has been operating since late February.
Third-year Nursing student Kayla Washington, who served one shift as a volunteer vaccinator, feels she’s had “the experience of a lifetime.”
“After being a part of the vaccination clinic, I have gained an even deeper respect and adoration for public health nursing than I already had,” Washington said. “It really was life changing to be a part of this experience and it was so exciting to be able to take part in such a historic moment in time.”
Washington, who will continue to volunteer through the summer if needed, also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with a wide variety of people while working at the clinic.
“It is such a special thing to be receiving this vaccine, and now that I am the one giving it, I am so honored to be a part of so many peoples' monumental day,” Washington said. “I could see the thrill in their eyes, and I'm sure they could see it in mine as well.”
Faculty members at the School of Nursing have made sure to guarantee that all students who want to volunteer have the opportunity to do so by scheduling them all for at least one vaccination shift. During the one shift Washington has volunteered for, which typically last four hours long, she was able to distribute approximately 60 vaccines.
University students in all fields of study have also been involved in other COVID-19 relief efforts, such as participating in phonebanks to ensure that community members are pre-registered for a COVID-19 vaccine. Others are greeters at vaccination sites and are involved in spreading key information about the vaccine — opportunities to volunteer can be found through CIOs on Grounds or websites such as VolunteerMatch or the University Career Center page.
U.Va. Health has begun sending students invitations to receive vaccinations at the Seminole Square Community Vaccination Center. The BRHD entered phase 2 of vaccine distribution April 12 — which expands eligibility to individuals age 16 and older — and all of Virginia followed April 18, given a directive from Gov. Ralph Northam. As of Sunday, 5,841,006 doses of the vaccine have been administered across Virginia.
The Blue Ridge Health District, in partnership with Redline Management, established a website to provide a centralized source of information on COVID-19, including information on vaccine pre-registration, frequently asked questions, job opportunities, case and vaccine dashboards and more.