Beginning in the fall of 2020 students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing stepped up to help fight the spread of COVID-19 by volunteering at testing sites, helping with campus saliva testing, and providing health screenings at campus events.
Community members noticed the great work nursing students were doing, and once the vaccine rollout began the college was contacted to help with distribution.
“Volunteering to administer the COVID-19 vaccines has been an incredibly humbling experience,” said senior nursing student Corinne Shapiro of Columbia, Tennessee. “After months of pushing forward in health care despite the challenges, these vaccine clinics have been a glimpse of hope towards a better future. I am so grateful for this hands-on experience and opportunity.”
Under the leadership of College of Nursing faculty members, student nurses began helping at vaccination clinics throughout the city. Covenant Health, the Knox County Health Department, Cherokee Health Systems, UT Medical Center, and Faith Leaders Church Initiative were among the list of partners.
Vaccinating Covenant Health staff was one of the first clinics the college assisted. “When I received the opportunity to volunteer at the COVID vaccine clinic with Covenant Health, I was overwhelmed with excitement,” said senior Kayla Miller of West Dundee, Illinois. “I had read about the vaccine a lot and heard about it on the news, but it finally felt real when this opportunity arose. It was such an inspiring experience being able to help distribute the vaccine.”
The college was also approached by Faith Leaders Church Initiative to assist with vaccination clinics.
“The nursing students were professional and provided excellent care. They were attuned to the needs of the senior populations coming in and worked calmly and efficiently to make their time with us pleasant,” said Bonnie Graham, a member of the Faith Leaders Church Initiative. “I saw kindness, compassion, and camaraderie for a single purpose, which was to vaccinate as many as was possible with the vaccines on hand. This was an extraordinary effort given the time frame and the volume of people coming through on a regular basis.”
The experience is beneficial to both the community and to nursing students. “The college’s mission is leading care, creating partnerships, and improving health,” said Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the College of Nursing. “Not only are we advancing the health of our community through vaccines, we are providing the students with an opportunity to practice nursing and public health skills in a community setting.”
“What I saw at the vaccination clinic was future RNs working for a common goal—service for a common good,” said Graham. “These students made me see that the future of nursing is in good hands.”
In partnership with the Knox County Health Department and multiple campus departments, Vol nursing students also began distributing the vaccine to eligible populations on campus.
“The on-campus clinics were great example of interdisciplinary practice, with nursing, pharmacy, medicine, facilities management, emergency management, and a host of volunteers carrying out what it really means when we say ‘Vol is a Verb,’” said Allyson Matney Neal, clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing.
Over the past two months students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs have spent over 600 hours volunteering to help distribute vaccines.
While students are given clinical hours for their time, some choose to extend their volunteer hours without that benefit. “Some students will sign up to work a four-hour shift and end up voluntarily staying a full seven hours,” said Shelia Swift, assistant dean of undergraduate programs. “Nurses are continuing to do their best to meet that call whenever and wherever they can.”
To date students have given out roughly 5,000 vaccines total.
Niederhauser said, “To be a Volunteer means to live the Torchbearer Creed: ‘One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.’ By participating in these clinics in partnership with our community agencies and hospitals, I believe we are helping to shed a ray of hope that we will get this pandemic under control and people will be able to get back to some sort of new normalcy in work and play.”
Student nurses will continue to help administer vaccines throughout the semester.
Kara Clark (865-974-9498, firstname.lastname@example.org)