ECU Nursing students assisting with Covid-19 vaccinations

ECU Nursing professor Dr. Liz Massey, right, administers a vaccination to Nursing student Megan Jernigen in advance of opening the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex for public vaccinations.

Undeterred by the risk involved, students in East Central University’s Nursing program are answering the bell early and often in an effort to help administer the Covid-19 vaccination to as many people as possible.

Approximately three dozen ECU senior Nursing students are currently assisting the Pontotoc County Health Department administer the vaccine to Oklahomans with a minimum age of 65 and first responders such as healthcare workers and public safety officials.

“Our students have absolutely loved helping out,” said Dr. Darcy Duncan, director of ECU’s Nursing program. “They are excited to be a part of this, to be a part of history – even though it’s a dark chapter of history. This is what they work for, what they prepare for. They want to serve and they’ve been able to experience a lot of patient interaction.”

Citizens are being vaccinated on Wednesdays at the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex, a public space in Ada large enough to accommodate significant demand. Those arriving for vaccinations are not just local residents.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health has organized vaccination sites – called “pods” for points of distribution – around the state and Oklahomans willing to travel can essentially sign up to receive theirs at whichever pod can serve them quickest. Ada’s pod has seen recipients from as far away as Tulsa. For ECU Nursing students, helping to meet that overwhelming demand has provided them with an invaluable learning experience.

“As a Nursing student in my final semester, being pulled into service during a pandemic was not what I – or any of my peers – expected when we began school,” said Lisa Duran, a senior from Duncan. “However, having the opportunity to serve this community as well as assist the healthcare workers and volunteers is a blessing. It is touching to see so many people, some who drove two to three hours, come get the vaccine – not only to protect themselves and their loved ones, but to join in this fight against Covid-19.”

Duncan said that Nursing students haven’t administered the actual shots yet, but that they will start doing so in the near future. For the first couple of weeks, they have served in various support roles such as screening pre-vaccination patients and observing post-vaccination patients. Students were vaccinated before reporting for duty.

Because Covid-19 has shuttered so many facilities to non-essential personnel, finding clinical hours – a graduation requisite for ECU’s Nursing students – has been a challenge. This large-scale vaccination event offers a solution for that. Reaching an hours threshold, however, is of secondary concern to students who are relishing the opportunity to put all they’ve learned into practice.

“The Nursing faculty at ECU has always taught us to be ready for the unexpected,” Duran said. “I think the biggest thing they’ve taught us is how to demonstrate our compassion and make people feel truly heard and respected. Being able to see people do their parts is like a breath of fresh air, and the encouragement I’ve received personally has given me so much peace with my decision to pursue this profession.”

ECU’s Nursing students participated in Ada’s initial vaccination event, which took place the Wednesday before the spring semester started. Duncan said the plan is for students to be a part of the local vaccination effort until it is completed.

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