By Zandy Dudiak, Communications coordinator
For some Carlow University nursing students, administering injections at Pittsburgh Mercy’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic at 249 South 9th Street on the South Side was more than just giving someone a shot in the arm.
“For many of them, this is their first time ever giving an injection,” says Dr. Lugenia Bracero, assistant professor and Second Degree Program coordinator at Carlow. “Many of them were very excited to do this. This was definitely history in the making.”
In March, Dr. Bracero approached Sister Sheila Carney, RSM, special assistant to Carlow’s president, wondering if the nursing students could become involved in the vaccination effort. Since March 29, Dr. Bracero has been coordinating students and faculty to serve at Pittsburgh Mercy’s vaccination clinic on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Getting the opportunity to put an injection into a human arm instead of a pad in a simulation lab has helped build the students’ confidence through hands-on experience. Some had not given shots before, but had only watched videos of how to do it.
Dr. Bracero says some were nervous, especially sophomores who never before had a chance to administer injections in a hospital setting.
Mary Frances Reidell, who teaches senior students community health nursing at Carlow, has coordinated the senior nurses going to the vaccine clinics for their Community Health Nursing Clinical. Dr. Bracero has been the nursing faculty who has coordinated the nursing students who wish to volunteer or who need extra clinical hours.
“I was waiting with baited breath for the vaccine to be approved,” Reidell says. “I felt so helpless. Now, I can finally help.”
Reidell told her students that this is their calling.
“You’re helping to save the world one shot at a time,” Reidell reminds her students. “After giving 40 or 50 shots, they walk out of there like pros.”
Junior Ciara Murray has enjoyed the opportunity to educate people about the vaccine, and especially seeing them so excited to receive their second dose. She has also appreciated the different experiences she has had at the clinic that she would not have had otherwise.
“It’s a different type of environment than an inpatient clinical setting,” she said.
Dr. Janice Nash, director of the BSN Nursing Program, said the vaccination clinic has given the students a chance to interact with different populations and age groups.
She is particularly grateful for the students to have the experience, because COVID-19 has kept the classes remote this past year, except for the times student nurses served in an in-person hospital setting. Nash says the experience has been good for the faculty, too.
“These have been my favorite days of the whole semester,” she says.
Sophomore Samantha Spader said that by seeing the variety of people attending the vaccination clinic, she has learned a lot about patient interaction.
“I feel that I’m getting a lot more experience,” she said.
Reidell said the clinic’s observation room also provided the students a chance to watch for side effects after people receive the vaccine. For instance, when people complained of dizziness, the students checked their vital signs.
They also were able to interact with pharmacists and practicing and retired doctors, who struck up conversations about their careers.
Sophomore Morgan Nedley said the clinic has provided her with her first non-hospital experience.
“I’ve noticed these people are so excited to get their vaccines,” she said. “It means a lot to them.”
Lauren Birkmeyer, a graduating senior, agrees, noting she had never experienced working in a clinic setting before the opportunity to administer COVID-19 vaccinations for Pittsburgh Mercy came around.
“Everybody’s just really friendly and really helpful,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to develop a rapport with people and be part of something that’s making history.”
Dr. Bracero, whose background is in psychiatric nursing, says it is “heartwarming” to be able to administer the shots to persons served by Pittsburgh Mercy.
“I’m just so grateful for this opportunity,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”