GCC nursing students are getting essential hands-on experience and providing a much-needed service to the community by volunteering for the COVID vaccine clinic at Greenfield’s Zon Community Center.
Through volunteering at the clinic, the nursing students get crucial professional experience, not just in administering the vaccine but in patient communication and care. For each session at the clinic, two nursing students work with GCC nursing professor emeritus, Cheri Ducharme. The students administer the vaccinations while Ducharme takes care of documentation. Although they can take shorter shifts, most students have chosen to stay throughout the six to seven-hour day, and many are anxious to return to the clinic as soon as they can.
The nursing program is thrilled to have this opportunity for their students, given the challenges of education during the COVID pandemic. Throughout the year, GCC nursing students’ clinical hours have been limited. Students at clinical sites in Vermont have been able to fully participate in clinical rotations, while at Massachusetts sites, they’ve only been able to participate in clinical rotations every other week. On alternative weeks they participate in virtual simulations. In addition, students who have not been able to go to their clinical site each week have participated in the Pioneer Valley Interprofessional Education Collaborative, where they collaborate on developing a patient’s plan of care with a group of students from pharmacy, physician assistant, social work, physical therapy, and occupational therapy programs.
Nursing students had also taken part in COVID testing events held on the GCC campus. As the vaccine became available, Karyn Skiathitis, assistant dean of nursing, saw another opportunity for students to be involved. The Board of Registered Nursing had approved student participation in vaccine clinics as valid clinical experience, so Skiathitis contacted Alex Wiltz, GCC’s public safety officer and Jennifer Hoffman, Greenfield’s interim health director, to offer the students’ services.
Working at the vaccine clinic has been an extremely positive experience for Cheri Ducharme and the nursing students. “This is one of those things that you love to do. The people are so happy that you’re there and I have never seen a clinic run so well. It’s a joy to go.”
After months of studying alone at home, student Jiayi Yang has been very happy to have the opportunity to work at the clinic. “I really wanted to use my knowledge to connect with the community and practice my skills,” she says. “Everybody over there is very supportive and you can talk to a lot of people that are in the profession.”
“The practice we were able to get at the clinic was probably the most valuable experience I’ve had to date,” says student Abigail Gibavic. “It gave us the opportunity to have actual patient interaction—practicing procedure, bedside manner—really what it would be like to have patients for a visit, start to finish.” For Gibavic, the highlight of the experience has been the confidence she’s felt after working at the clinic. “I’ve learned a lot, I’ve done something for the community. I’m feeling empowered and feeling like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to be a nurse!’”
The vaccine clinic has also been a great opportunity for GCC nursing to give back to the local community, especially given how many in the area support the program financially. “I believe that the operative word in Greenfield Community College is ‘community’ and the COVID crisis has impacted everyone in our community,” Skiathitis asserts. “We’re glad to have an opportunity to participate in an effort that may decrease the outbreak of COVID, keep people healthier and safer, and get us somewhere back to a normal situation.”
Skiathitis is hopeful that the nursing program will be fully in-person in the fall but that will depend on state requirements. “Our faculty is really anxious to get back to face-to-face teaching,” she says, “and although our students come to clinical once a week and go to lab once a week, they do feel isolated. We really try to create a learning community here, and that’s much harder to do under these circumstances.”