Jan. 11, 2021
For Hartnell College nursing student Jerrica Dexter, coronavirus-related limitations on clinical training have been frustrating because she knows medical staff could use extra help during the pandemic.
That has made being able to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to first responders all the more rewarding, said Dexter, who intends to graduate this spring with her associate degree in registered nursing.
“We feel so helpless that we can’t be there in the hospital helping and relieving some of the nurses,” she said during a break in giving shots to firefighters and EMTs on Jan. 9 at the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas (CSVS) location in north Salinas. “So it’s a great opportunity for us to pitch in — in the only way we really can right now.”
Dexter, who plans to become an emergency room trauma nurse, was one of 18 Hartnell registered (RN) and vocational nursing (VN) students who volunteered to staff four CSVS vaccination clinics in Salinas, Castroville, Greenfield and King City, administering hundreds of doses under the direction of the Monterey County Health Department. She was also among about 30 students who gave COVID-19 vaccinations to Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS) employees right before Christmas.
Even though these opportunities are strictly voluntary and have come during Winter Break, students have been lining up to be of service and gain valuable experience, said Dr. Sonja Sheppard, associate director of Nursing and Allied Health. There has even been a waiting list of students wanting to help.
“I was telling my faculty, I feel like I’m giving away lottery tickets,” Dr. Sheppard said. “They are so excited, and there are only so many slots.
“This is not a class assignment; this is not a requirement for graduation. This is out of your own time, taking half of a Saturday to serve the community, and they’re just falling over each other trying to get the opportunity.”
Hartnell nursing faculty have also volunteered to supervise the students, who have been helping with either delivering injections or assisting with patient intake and screening, depending on their level of training.
“It’s been so rewarding to have students from our community doing this work,” said instructor Debbie Thorpe, who supervised the students working from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the CSVS clinic at 2018 N. Main St. “They’re people with kids, taking care of family. They’re an awesome group of students.”
Erica Padilla-Chavez, president of the Hartnell Community College District Governing Board, said the nursing students’ community service reflects the importance of the college’s health care programs, which include respiratory care and emergency medical technician.
“Both through their training and after they graduate and join the workforce, our students really are on the front lines of public health and safety, not only during this pandemic, but at all times,” she said.
Dr. Sheppard, who joined Hartnell in October, said the learning that comes from delivering the COVID-19 vaccine go well beyond the practical aspects of giving the injection.
“We all think giving a shot is no big deal, but you still need to practice, and doing it on a fake arm only goes so far,” Dr. Sheppard said. “When you’re doing it on real people, and a volume of real people, everyone is different.
“Muscle mass is different; how people respond to it is different. Some people have no problem, some people do have reactions, and some people don’t like the sight of a needle and pass out, even a firefighter. This is real-life training.”
Such an experience also builds soft skills, she said.
“This is a very calm response to an outbreak, but how do you deal with something on a mass level when you have hundreds of people coming through in a relatively short amount of time? How do you keep your cool, keep it positive and keep everything flowing? You’ve got to learn those skills as well.”
One of the vaccine recipients at the Salinas clinic on Jan. 9 was Salinas Fire Department Engineer Mike Micer of Station 5, who said it is “a relief to know you’re going to be protected.” He said the nursing students did a “great job.”
“It’s just a shot, and they’re very highly capable of doing it,” Micer said.
Dr. Raúl Rodríguez, interim superintendent/president of Hartnell, noted that both SVMHS and CSVS are clinical partners with the Hartnell nursing program, meaning they provide ongoing opportunities for students to gain crucial real-world experience.
“We are grateful for these partnerships, which are so vital to our students’ preparation and also of great value to the health care providers,” he said. “This instance of COVID-19 vaccinations is a perfect example – and one that makes us very proud.”