Nursing: The Foundation for Future Heroes
A year has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. People had to adapt to new realities. The government enforced stay-at-home orders and essential workers stepped up to the frontlines to care for lives. A year later, many institutions, hospitals, and colleges like Howard Community College are making an impact by helping the community get vaccinated during the public health crisis.
Howard Community College (HCC) is the only vaccination site located at a higher education institution in Howard County, Maryland. The Howard County Health Department manages the vaccination clinic within the Athletics and Fitness Center.
“Howard Community College is proud to partner with Howard County to protect the health of our community,” said Dr. Kate Hetherington, president of HCC. “From the beginning of the pandemic, HCC has been doing its part, from donating personal protective equipment to graduating students early to work the front lines, and we will continue to help to bring an end to the pandemic.”
Thanks to the nursing department's faculty and staff, the college is also introducing students to the front lines early through hands-on experience at the vaccination clinic as a part of their training. By staffing a vaccination site that is open to the public, served by diverse student and faculty volunteers, HCC is doing its part to address health disparities, especially those impacting communities of color.
"In my role as the director of nursing for the Nurse Education Program, along with the health sciences division dean and the nursing faculty, we felt it was important to participate in the vaccination clinics," Archiena Beaver said. "This is an amazing opportunity for our students to learn and give back to our community. Faculty and students are working in the vaccination clinics for clinicals and on their own time. This is one example of their commitment to improving the health of our community."
Student Shawntee Austin said that working at the front lines of the current health care crisis lets her contribute to the wellness in the community.
"Being a nurse-in-training by helping people with their health, especially during this pandemic, gives me a feeling of instant gratification and frustration at the same time," Austin said. "I currently work in the medical field, and making people feel better and giving them the tools and education to be well is a satisfying feeling for me, as well as for the person being treated. There is limited visitation during the pandemic and most people do not have their support system of family and friends with them when they seek medical attention."
Although the vaccination clinic opened on January 25, students started their clinical work in March. Beaver revealed they were excited to transition from virtual learning to interacting with patients. This semester is the first time nursing students are doing in-person clinicals since March 2020. During the spring and fall semesters of 2020, the nursing program conducted the clinical component virtually using a simulation software tool.
Beaver said the college took the appropriate measures to train and prepare students to help the community feel safe once again.
"Students received information from the health department, Howard County General Hospital, The Centers for Disease Control and the state of Maryland website," Beaver said. "These and other resources were uploaded on the students' course sites in Canvas [learning management system] for them to review prior to participating in the vaccination clinics."
"Faculty reviewed and addressed questions regarding the vaccines that are available along with administration techniques,” she added. "Information sheets on the vaccines were also made available to the students, so they are prepared to address any questions posed by clients during the vaccination clinics."
Austin's classmate, Emmanuella Boateng, was ready to begin her work in the clinic and make a measurable difference in the county.
"I knew immediately that I wanted to become a nurse to make an impact on my community and the world," Boateng said. "To know that I am doing that by attending Howard Community College to be a future frontline worker and health care professional feels amazing. I think it is really admirable that our school is a place where vaccinations are being administered because it allows us to see familiar faces who have comfort knowing that we are a school that opened our doors during very confusing times."
Two full-time and two adjunct faculty are working with the students in the vaccination clinics. Several other full-time faculty have volunteered to work in the clinics as well, according to Beaver. Ellen Nichols, the assistant director of nursing, is working with vaccination clinics associated with Howard County General Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Dr. Rachael Farrell is working with the Howard County Health Department at the clinic at HCC. At this point, most nursing faculty members have received their vaccinations, which helps them encourage the community to do the same.
"I think the opportunity we have with the Howard County Health Department is a great opportunity for faculty and staff to work to help ensure everyone that wants to receive the vaccine can get it," Dr. Farrell said.
Kathi Johnson, an assistant professor in the nursing program who works at external clinical sites, says she has also valued the opportunity to get vaccinated and shared her thoughts about why it's essential for diverse communities to register.
"COVID-19 has really hit the Black, Brown and Latinx communities hard," Johnson said. "Many of us have more than one underlying medical condition that increases the risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, and possible death. We really need to consider the vaccine as a tool to mitigate the risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, and possible death for our populations."
"I think utilizing our faculty and nursing students is very important to ensuring the safety and health of our community during this pandemic," said Colleen Young, assistant professor of nursing. "The more people that are available to vaccinate our community, the more community members get vaccinated. We cannot get vaccines in arms without these volunteers. The health departments and National Guard have only so many resources before they are depleted. It is excellent that there are many other volunteers who help out with traffic flow, assisting with check-in and check-out, but we need to have clinical people who have the skills to administer the vaccines."
Beaver is proud of all faculty and students' participation during these life-changing times. She knows that Howard Community College is setting the tone by nurturing future leaders and equipping them with necessary life skills.
"The students are helping to move Howard County forward by positively impacting the health of its members," Beaver said. "Every person in the county is valuable, and we want to continue to contribute to the health and prosperity of our community. To do this, we need every member to be physically and mentally healthy. COVID-19 has taken so much from us this past year. Along with the other prevention strategies, the vaccine will place us in a position to return to normalcy. We are going to learn from this period of history to ensure we have a future to continue producing health care professionals and leaders in Howard County."
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Howard Community College, visit vaccine.howardcountymd.gov.