When Dr. Carole Roan Gresenz, interim dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies, had the idea to recruit Georgetown University students for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts, a group of her colleagues and students who work in public health were eager to join in her efforts.
Since January, third-year and fourth-year students from the School of Medicine and clinical graduate students from the NHS have volunteered to aid vaccine distribution efforts, administering doses to patients at four D.C. MedStar Health facilities and other public health placements.
Dr. Gresenz initiated the nursing student volunteer program and now works in tandem with Susan Coleman, an NHS professor who teaches a course on public health and has previous experience in managing the Georgetown-sponsored flu immunization program. Dr. Princy Kumar, senior associate dean of students, division chief of infectious disease and professor at the School of Medicine, is leading efforts to coordinate the clinical medical students’ involvement in the student volunteer program.
The participation of medical and nursing student volunteers in the vaccine distribution program is a way for Georgetown students to give back to their community, according to Coleman.
“In terms of our campus program, I think it’s a great experience for both the medical and the nursing students to be involved and to work together on this with our community partners,” Coleman said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “That’s one of the big things: really being part of the community and being part of the effort to vaccinate our community.”
The student volunteer program currently includes around 180 medical and nursing students who are eligible to work in clinical settings, according to Elizabeth Zolper (MED ’21), the volunteer coordinator responsible for managing volunteer registration and scheduling.
Zolper, who has administered dozens of vaccines to residents in the District, says community members have been excited to receive the vaccine.
“It’s a really positive experience, and I feel good getting to provide that good news to someone,” Zolper said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
Student volunteers can sign up for morning and afternoon time slots during weekdays at various public health placements, including the MedStar medical centers and at homeless shelters in D.C., Alexandria and Arlington.
MedStar Georgetown began administering COVID-19 vaccinations to frontline workers after the hospital first received its supply of doses Dec. 15. Currently, D.C. is in Phase 1C Tier 1 of vaccine distribution as of Feb. 24. In this phase, elderly residents, certain essential workers and individuals with qualifying medical conditions are eligible for the vaccine.
After Georgetown University transitioned to a virtual environment in March 2020, the clinical volunteer opportunities typically available to nursing students transitioned to online simulations, according to Elizabeth Douglass (GRD ’21), a nursing master’s student, vaccine distribution volunteer and the president of the Graduate Nursing Student Academy.
Nursing students typically receive training on how to give vaccines during their first year, but the students volunteering in the program received additional training on specific COVID-19 vaccination protocol immediately before they were approved to enter the clinical settings, according to Douglass.
Students have been eager to become involved volunteering with the program, according to Coleman.
“They are very anxious and willing to go to help out. They sometimes call this — what’s happening right now with COVID — the ‘Fauci effect.’ These are nursing students, and they already have a strong desire to help people and to make a difference,” Coleman said. “I think being involved in this vaccine effort, they really want to volunteer and do more than probably their time allows, given their clinical responsibilities and their other classes.”
Every jab offers a glimmer of hope, Douglass says. After every appointment, student volunteers sense they have protected the health of a vulnerable member of their community.
“Knowing that they can go home and feel better or be able to see their family members after being isolated for basically almost a year now is just really awesome,” Douglass said.