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Out in the field : NMU nursing students help at vaccination clinics

A Northern Michigan University nursing student prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. Students have been getting experience at vaccination clinics during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARQUETTE — For Northern Michigan University students studying in health care fields, hands-on experience is irreplaceable. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to obtain that experience because many courses were restructured to an online format. NMU nursing students who had previously missed out were able to assist with two recent vaccination clinics. The first was at the Munising Sault Tribe Health Center, located in the Grand Island Chippewa Community Center. NMU Nursing Professor Bitsy Wedin worked with representatives from the tribal health center to staff a vaccination clinic with students from her clinic course titled nursing care of populations.

“This particular batch of students were in our medical course a year ago when everything was shut down,” Wedin said. “That course is the meat and potatoes of the nursing program. There was no alternate or anything; it was just shut down and went online. It was, and it is, critical that we get them in for experience with procedures like this.”

The Sault Health Centers of the Chippewa Indians is a Federally Qualified Health Center, meaning it is a “community-based organization that provides comprehensive primary care and preventive care, to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay or health insurance status.” It provides services in eight Upper Peninsula locations within seven counties: Escanaba, Hessel, Manistique, Marquette, Munising, Newberry, Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace.

The connection between the NMU Nursing Program and the Munising Sault Tribe Health Center came via a current nursing student who is working at the center for his community rotation. This student happens to be working directly with an NMU alumna, Valerie Ford, who graduated from NMU with her LPN in 2010 and her BSN in 2017. She has been working at the tribal health center since 2018. Practice has to be consistent across all of the Sault Health Center service areas. When the center in Sault Ste. Marie began working with students from Lake Superior State University, it became possible for the other centers to work with students as well. This is how Ford was able to open up a conversation with Wedin about getting her students experience in a clinical setting.

They discussed logistics and decided both students and the center would benefit most from an immunization clinic featuring the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

“The most important thing really is that they talk to each patient and make them feel comfortable,” Wedin said. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s your medicine, off you go.’ They assisted with paperwork as well. With Moderna, everything has to line up. You need to make sure you have the right patient, the right birthdate and the lot number has to be confirmed.”

While the Pfizer vaccine requires a more complicated process, Moderna is a straight draw up. Wedin said this is good practice for nursing students.

For Ford, working with nursing students was not only a positive experience, but an asset to the health center. With their help, the clinic was able to increase the number of vaccinators without having to obtain assistance from the various county locations.

“I’ve been a nurse for 11 years but an RN for only three, so I remember vividly what being a nursing student was like,” Ford said. “To know exactly what semester they are in and what they are going through, it’s just fun to work with them. It’s a nice situation to be able to work with them and help them along.”

Another beneficial part of this experience was having students learn in a clinic environment. Being a smaller health clinic servicing a specific part of the population, patients are known on a more personal level. Many students are used to working in large hospitals with a high volume of patients and a busier, more fast-paced environment. This is not always the most supportive place to learn.

Wedin said not only did the more intimate, personable environment make her students feel at ease, it also lent to the community experience as a whole.

“I’ve done a lot of these shot clinics where it’s so rushed … but, this was wonderful,” she said. “From a community perspective I think it’s really great for the patients, because not only did they get the vaccine, they also helped educate a nurse.”

The February immunization clinic with the Munising Sault Tribe Health Center marked the first opportunity the NMU Nursing Program had to give vaccines during the pandemic, but not the last. Students assisted the Sault Tribe Health Center during an immunization clinic for tribal members held March 20 at NMU. They also were to help with a follow-up clinic for the Moderna vaccine in Munising on March 23.

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