Eastern Kentucky University’s seventh-semester senior School of Nursing students are getting hands-on experience like no other students in the history of EKU’s nursing program have gotten before. “This is an unprecedented time in the history of public health and the nursing profession. Not since the 1918 pandemic influenza have we experienced a global pandemic on such a scale,” said Dr. Melanie Adams-Johnson, associate professor and clinical coordinator in the School of Nursing.
Forty-six senior bachelor of science nursing (BSN) students are administering COVID-19 vaccines across EKU’s service region this semester. In addition to serving in Baptist Health’s vaccination clinic inside EKU’s Perkins Building, students are also working in mass vaccination clinics across Fayette and Powell counties. These experiences are all provided as part of their clinical rotations. These service-learning experiences include onsite support and collaboration among EKU faculty, public health departments and hospital partners. EKU students have been part of the national COVID-19 response since July 2020, but specifically began giving vaccinations “at the regional clinics shortly after the vaccines were made available to our communities in January.” Adams-Johnson said.
The student experience is about more than just “giving a shot,” though that is an important, impactful part of fighting COVID-19. “Nurses (current and future) have a unique role. Nurses comprise the largest component of the healthcare workforce in the United States and across the world. The healthcare system cannot operate without competent, professional, healthy nurses who are ready and willing to deploy to care for populations; both inside and outside the walls of the hospital,” Adams-Johnson said. “Nurses have always been on the front lines of developing, managing and delivering care to populations in often unconventional practice settings (such as community settings, churches, parking lots, and sports arenas). During this past year, our students have had an opportunity to experience and observe the diversity of nursing roles in very tangible ways”
Adams-Johnson said students are studying the ‘determinants of health’ in real time, and with recognizable outcomes. “They can see and experience social, political, and environmental factors that influence why more cases of disease but fewer deaths occur in one area vs another. It’s our responsibility as nurses-as patient advocates- to use data and clinical experience to reduce health disparities and vulnerabilities in our patient populations. For example, we are using data to make decisions about why the overall case numbers of minorities are lower yet the deaths are much higher,” she said.
The impacts of COVID-19 have put healthcare workers in the spotlight in unusual ways. It has given the public an idea of the difficulties of working in healthcare and has shown how important quality medical professionals are to the healthcare system in times of crisis.
“The pandemic has forced us to learn about and work with a brand new disease impacting individual patients like we have never seen before. It has also provided opportunities for nurses (and nursing students) to work with families, community groups, policies, and regulations- in a very real and tangible way. This is an excellent opportunity for our communities, our campus colleagues, and our students to better understand the scope of nursing practice,” Adams-Johnson said.
As part of reflective practice in the School of Nursing, students have used the terms ‘anxious’, ‘eager’, ‘excited’, ‘humbled’, ‘honored’, ‘respected’, ‘grateful’, ‘amazing’ ‘partnerships’ and ‘community’ to describe their feelings about being part of the pandemic response. Adams-Johnson said that health systems have been grappling with difficult questions in the last year regarding surge capacity. “How do we continue to staff units when our own nurses and other health care professionals are sick? When they’re off because their own families are sick or dying? These are the tough ethical and legal practice issues that are part of every health agency, unit, and professional discipline (including nursing), and they’ve been lived out on a daily basis for the past year,” she said.
While the COVID19 numbers are declining across the U.S., in response to growing numbers of vaccinations, cases of disease have been on the rise in Europe and other areas of the world in recent weeks. “We still have a lot of work to do to reach the other side of this pandemic,” Adams-Johnson said. Viruses, like COVID19, are masters at learning how to mutate, shift and change when their hosts get distracted or let their guards down. “If we want to defeat this pandemic and truly get back to “normal” in our communities, we must reach herd immunity through mass vaccination efforts,” she reiterated.
Appointments are now available in Madison County five days per week. To sign up for your COVID-19 vaccination at EKU, go to https://www.baptisthealth.com/vaccine/schedule-now/locations/richmond, or contact the Madison County Health Department COVID19 appointment line at 859.623-7312 (Extension 223).