Janssen Blackmon and Emma Melton both felt a wave of nerves when they walked into BJC Health Christian Hospital last week and realized they’d actually be administering COVID-19 vaccinations that day.
The two University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Nursing students had been stunned to learn just a week prior that they’d be helping with the vaccine rollout efforts. Even taking and passing an educational module and quiz comprised of materials from the Centers for Disease Control hadn’t quite make it sink in.
“I probably was nervous up until I had the first person come to my station,” Blackmon said. “I remember talking to them and how excited they were that this vaccine was here. I believe they were the first person in their family as well to get it.
“It put me in the moment. I’m like, ‘This is huge. We’re here. Now you’re administering this to this person, something that’s huge and life changing for them.’ Then it was like, ‘Now I’m just excited.’”
The two aren’t the only UMSL student nurses participating in the fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On Feb. 1, all the BSN students began administering vaccines at sites across the greater St. Louis area.
Working in groups of eight, the students are volunteering under the supervision of UMSL nursing faculty members with BJC HealthCare Christian Hospital, SSM Health DePaul Hospital – St. Louis and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
Assisting with the vaccine rollout efforts has long been an objective of those in the College of Nursing and fits with its overall ethos.
“Our mission and our goal at the UMSL College of Nursing is to respond to the needs of the community and to promote health and prevent illness in our communities,” said Roxanne Vandermause, interim dean of the College of Nursing. “That’s been the call of nursing for generations. Our students are experiencing an uncertain and novel type of pandemic, and they’re learning to understand and manage its effects.”
The college had been in communication with several area partners prior to Christmas. Additionally, Associate Teaching Professor of Nursing Diane Saleska reached out to Alex Garza, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, in December and asked him to consider using nursing students for the vaccine rollout. He connected Saleska with SSM Health.
Since then, Director of Clinical Operations Shawne Manies has been coordinating requests for student services at various locations around the region, working with faculty to adjust schedules and seeing that community partners’ needs are met. The College of Nursing anticipates expanding its contribution and assisting its clinical partners across the region as the vaccine supply increases.
“Nursing students are a really powerful force that needs to be tapped into,” Saleska said. “I want people to be aware of the incredible manpower resource that student nurses can be.”
In early January, UMSL nursing faculty members piloted the program with SSM Health, and every student received a vaccine. Thanks to the CDC materials, the students are prepared to field questions about the vaccine, including the different manufacturers, the period of waiting between the two shots, the mRNA vaccine and the intramuscular technique.
“It was really cool to get to be part of the entire process from the vaccine all the way up to scheduling the second dose and be able to connect with a community and see all the excitement,” Melton said. “No one’s ever been excited about getting a vaccine or shot before, but the excitement in the room that day was unbelievable. It was just an awesome experience.”
Saleska notes that it’s not only the vaccine recipients that will benefit from the arrangement. There’s a lot for student nurses to learn about community and societal needs, communicating with the public, managing a large-scale health crisis and rolling up sleeves and doing “what needs to be done to keep people safe and to make people healthy.”
Though both Blackmon and Melton work on the Ear, Nose & Throat/Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery floor at BJC Hospital and are more than familiar with medical procedures such as injections and tracheostomies, giving vaccinations was a standout experience in their minds.
“I would say it was the best clinical experience I’ve had since I’ve been in the nursing program,” Blackmon said. “It helps you put it all together and see the bigger picture. There was so much behind the scenes, different people who were a part of the team. The nurses made it happen, but there were also the pharmacists, then there were the techs and then there were nursing students. You get to see everyone coming together, working towards the same goal, striving to help humanity and the community.”
Those are sentiments that Melton also felt strongly.
“I was excited knowing that we get to make a difference in stopping a pandemic and making people’s lives a little bit easier,” she said. “It was really awesome to be able to be part of this, literally, probably once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
St. Louis Magazine