Vaccinating the majority of the population against COVID-19 is a historic challenge. It’s also proving to be a significant learning experience and service opportunity for nearly 400 students and faculty members from Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and College of Nursing.
In partnership with the Detroit Health Department and Henry Ford Health System, Wayne State students have spent the last five weeks volunteering more than 2,100 hours to administer COVID-19 vaccines directly to Detroit’s most vulnerable populations, including the residents and staffs at homeless shelters, nursing homes and senior apartment complexes.
“We are providing vaccines to the community of people we serve, which is vital to build a community between providers and patients,” said medical student Samantha Katz. “This is affecting me because I am able to remember how much I enjoy patient care and it reminds me of why I decided to become a physician in the first place.”
To date, the Detroit Health Department has administered vaccines to approximately 54,000 people, including 26,000 in community-based sites where Wayne State students and faculty are volunteering.
“Engaging the university in our vaccination outreach efforts during this pandemic not only provided us access to a pool of talented volunteers, but in turn provided Wayne State students real-life training that is invaluable and will help prepare them to hit the ground running,” said Denise Fair, chief public health officer of the Detroit Health Department. “It’s a win-win.”
Each day, Wayne State students sign up for shifts at outreach centers throughout the city and are deployed from the Coleman Young Recreation Center.
“These have been awesome experiences working with the Detroit Health Department. I have had informative and productive days working under Dr. Atas, Dr. Freeman and nurse Gloria,” said Jason Valencia, a first-year student at the School of Medicine. “Absorbing how these doctors and nurses set up outreach vaccination posts is invaluable. I frankly feel like I could set one up on my own if asked.”
“Our students are courageous,” said Tricia Thomas, associate dean for Faculty Affairs and interim associate dean for Academic and Clinical Affairs in the College of Nursing. “They sign up to volunteer and then step into the unknown. But they feel prepared and confident.”
Jennifer Mendez, associate professor and director of Community Engagement for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, added, “The COVID-19 vaccination experience has allowed our students to apply their knowledge as part of an interprofessional team. It has enhanced their clinical and patient care skills while making a real difference in Detroiters’ lives.”
In addition to administering vaccinations, students assist with registration, logistics, data entry, data analysis, putting residents at ease and monitoring patients for the possibility of adverse reactions after they receive the vaccine.
“I feel great about the experience,” said Grace Cleveland, a nursing student. “I’m glad to be able to help. This experience will always remind me of the importance of teamwork and support, and strengthen my belief that everyone matters.”
Wayne State faculty are working long hours on top of their regular jobs to assist with the operational logistics of the city’s vaccination effort. Tricia Thomas and Christine Seaver, distance learning and area coordinator in the College of Nursing; Paul Kilgore, associate professor and director of Research at the Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; and Jennifer Mendez in the School of Medicine, have helped with everything from scheduling and processes to orientation and communication.
“I have had faculty say to me that this has been the most meaningful work they have done in a decade,” Thomas said. “The last nine months have been full of fear, so to be able to provide some hope and to participate in the solution and advocate for patients has been incredible.”
Because the students are getting practical, real-world experience vaccinating the community, the College of Nursing is now replacing one of its student clinical rotation days in a hospital with one at a vaccination site. This one change will result in coverage of an additional 600 shifts.
“It was interesting seeing how amazing the team effort can be when nurses, doctors and other staff work together,” said first-year medical student Brandon Askar. “I really enjoyed helping people out and hearing the joy in their voices about getting the vaccine. The whole program was very organized, and when things got going we were able to vaccinate people at a very fast rate.”
Students are also providing vaccinations to eligible Detroiters at a drive-through location at the TCF Center.
“Everyone involved is passionate about providing vaccines to the Detroit population and work hard every day to do so,” said Madeline Wohlfeil, a member of the School of Medicine’s Class of 2021, who is providing vaccinations at the TCF Center. “Many of the health care workers I’ve interacted with are picking up shifts on the side just to help out. It feels great to be a part of such a hardworking and selfless group of people. The best part of working with Vaccinate Detroit is interacting with the community. Everyone who comes through the line is so grateful and excited to be able to receive the vaccine, it is a really awesome feeling to be able to give a little hope and happiness in such a crazy time.”
“These dedicated students show us what is possible when we come together as a community to help those in need,” said Kilgore. “These efforts will be key to helping bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and assist communities in returning to their best health.”