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Washington State University

WSU nursing students and faculty at the forefront of state COVID vaccination effort

Many thousands of people in Washington are vaccinated against COVID-19 thanks to Washington State University College of Nursing students and faculty.

In the Spokane region alone, WSU nursing students and faculty, working with the Spokane Regional Health District, had supported the administration of more than 15,000 vaccine doses as of late March.

Statewide, College of Nursing students and faculty reported working at more than 300 separate clinic events during that period.

Sometimes students and faculty did the work as part of their clinical studies; other times they volunteered on their days off, evenings and weekends. They have administered vaccines in community centers and homeless shelters, in nursing homes and schools, at CHAS and at Summit Cancer Centers.

“I think it’s our obligation to help in vaccinations, I really do,” said College of Nursing Dean Mary Koithan. “Nursing schools all over the country are taking the lead on this.”

“I vaccinated a 103-year-old woman who had already survived COVID! I have also given a lot of shots into patients’ arms where there was an old smallpox vaccine scar. That made me reflect on how effective smallpox vax programs were, since all those people lived through it and now we don’t need that vaccine anymore. I felt like part of history.”
— Jennifer Hanlon-Wilde

“Everyone I have interacted with is so excited to get the vaccine, and it seems to offer some hope after what has been a very tough year for most people.”
– Anna Harris

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is collecting information on this nationwide vaccination effort by nursing schools.

“With more than 560,000 nursing students currently enrolled in baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral programs at four-year colleges and universities, and with more than 52,000 full- and part-time faculty, AACN member schools are well-positioned to contribute to the immediate expansion of vaccine delivery,” the association says.

AACN noted the historic nature of the initiative, and that element is not lost on nursing students and faculty at WSU.

Said nursing student Leanne Nixon, “This has been such a meaningful experience to me, getting to serve my community and be a part of the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Senior Instructor Kay Olson is the driving force behind the WSU College of Nursing’s involvement in the vaccination effort in the Spokane region. She has participated in nearly 50 clinics, either as a vaccinator, a preceptor overseeing students, or in a support role.

Olson had led students in previous vaccination clinics with the Spokane Regional Health District, prompting BSN Program Director Wendy Williams-Gilbert to ask if she’d be willing to spearhead the college’s involvement in COVID vaccinations.

“I said ‘absolutely,’” Olson recalled. “I had no idea we would be doing this many vaccinations, but I was certainly hoping we’d play a part.”

Students start learning to give intramuscular injections their first semester in nursing school and gain even more experience giving flu shots in long-term care facilities and community clinics.

Kay Olson

College of Nursing personnel are involved in every aspect of COVID clinics, however. Staff members have volunteered at clinics for check-in and logistics, and faculty have overseen students as preceptors as well as worked as vaccinators. College administrators plan to continue to engage in community vaccination clinics around the state and region, working with various community groups, through the summer.

“Our CougNursing students, faculty and staff are making a difference in the community,” Koithan said. “I’m so impressed by their willingness to step up to ensure that everyone who wants to be vaccinated has the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

John McLain, a senior nursing student who has participated in vaccination clinics, said he views the activity as a privilege.

“I’ve had plenty of people say, ‘after this vaccine I’ll be able to see my grandparents who I haven’t seen in over a year, I’ll finally be able to go to the grocery store.’ It’s pretty humbling.”

Many students and faculty noted how excited and grateful people are when getting their vaccinations.

Olson said her view is that the work students, faculty and staff are doing helps everyone.

“The more people we vaccinate, the sooner we are going to be able to open up. It’s so awesome to know we’re part of that.”

“It is wonderful to see the confidence in our students as we continue to work with the community.”
– Wendy Williams Gilbert

Photos of vaccination clinics

– images by Sarah Schaub and Cori Kogan