Advanced EMT, paramedic, and associate degree nursing students at North Carolina’s Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) are helping out with COVID-19 vaccinations organized by the New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) in Wilmington. By doing so these students are aiding their communities while getting valuable hands-on experience during an actual public health emergency. And when the workday comes to a close, those who so choose can receive vaccinations themselves.
“Our hospital spun up a vaccination clinic, and we’re allowing our students to volunteer their time there,” explains Chip Munna, CFCC’s EMS program director. “Our CFCC students are doing anywhere from 800–1,200 vaccinations a day at the site, across 12 stations. They’re also getting to see the logistical issues involved with setting up and running such a mass-vaccination site.”
The clinic is being held inside Stone Theatres’ The Pointe 14 cinema in Wilmington. Stone Theatres is providing the space for free. “The lobby serves as the vaccination station space, and other rooms serve as pharmacy, supply, and nourishment,” Munna says. “This site began as a clinic in January, and we plan to use it for many more months to come.”
The CFCC students can volunteer for half or full days, with the hours worked applied to their college course requirements. All those taking part have been trained in administering intramuscular injections. The students also viewed an NHRMC presentation on the COVID-19 vaccination clinic and its procedures before being allowed to work on-site.
The students take turns working at the injection stations. They alternate between documenting patient information and giving patients their shots. To ensure proper record-taking, they’ve been given Epic accounts on the NHRMC server. Their system access is restricted, of course, “but our students still get to enter patient data directly into the system each time a patient comes up to get a shot, so that’s great,” says Munna.
For the NHRMC and CFCC, the student volunteer program is a win-win. The center gets access to free trained help to give shots, reducing demand on its own personnel. Meanwhile, “this is a really good opportunity for our students to see what a true kind of mass response looks like,” says Munna. “There are multiple agencies involved, so you have the whole multijurisdictional thing going on. And the logistical [feat] of getting 800–1,200 people through essentially one large room in about 7–8 hours is an impressive thing to see. It’s a great education for them!
“We always talk about public health vaccine initiatives in our curriculum,” he adds. “But unfortunately we don’t usually get to be involved in them in real life, other than giving tetanus shots or something like that. So this is one of those once-in-a-career opportunities for our students.”
Of course, not all of it is fun and games. “By doing this volume of shots daily, our students are learning about the tediousness and need to do accurate documentation,” says Munna. “Still, this is a great setting to learn about interacting with the public. There’s the chance for them to work on their communication skills and deescalate the nervousness of people attending the clinic who don’t like to get shots. And certainly the atmosphere is much more relaxed than is usually the case on EMS calls.”
Given how well this program is being received by NHRMC staff, the public, and the CFCC student volunteers, Munna recommends assisting at COVID-19 vaccination clinics for any college where students have been trained to give IM injections.
“This is a positive way to give your students valuable real-life experience and the feeling of making a real difference during this public health crisis,” he says. “It can also be soothing for EMS professionals to take part as well. I popped in at the clinic to check on a student at 7 a.m. and stayed around until 2 p.m. to help because they were shorthanded. It was like a mental health day: I knew I was doing good and felt appreciated.”
James Careless is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to EMS World.