Nursing students at Pellissippi State Community College aren’t just watching history unfold as the COVID-19 pandemic continues – they’re taking action to end it.
Pellissippi State nursing students administered the first rounds of a COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers at Covenant Health hospitals on Saturday. Within five minutes of posting the sign-up sheet Wednesday night, 50 students had volunteered.
“I immediately let all of the college administration team know what an amazing and wonderful group of young nurses we have in our program,” Nursing Dean Angela Lunsford told students in an email Thursday. “You are part of something historic that you will tell your grandchildren about. You should be very proud!”
Nursing students Megan Boyle, Yesenia Perez and Keiara Tate administered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Saturday morning at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, while Stephanie Busby, Autumn Smith and Angela Worley administered the vaccine at LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville.
“I knew I had to volunteer because I wanted to be part of the solution to this problem that has greatly affected not only my family, but the entire world,” said Tate, 27, a former patient care technician in home health care who decided to become a registered nurse after her daughter was born. “I have had two family members who have passed due to Covid and many others who have been ill due to this virus. I am looking forward to ushering in hope and a cure.”
Family experiences also influenced Perez’s decision to study nursing.
“Growing up, my mom was always in and out of the hospital, and I saw firsthand the way nurses took care of her – the good experiences and the bad,” said Perez, 20, who works 12 hours a week as a student nurse associate at Parkwest Medical Center in addition to 30 hours a week as a manager at Taco Bell. “I want to be that person who gives back to the community – and being bilingual, I can help (Spanish speaking) people who come into the hospital, because I can understand them.”
Although Pellissippi State students were prepared to draw up the vaccine themselves, Covenant Health had pharmacists on hand at the hospitals Saturday to draw up the medication, which was then put into a cooler.
“They got six syringes (of vaccine) per vial, and we had to get every dose out of the cooler,” Perez explained. “We couldn’t have multiple doses out and lined up. They had to stay a certain temperature.”
Nursing students injected the vaccine into the deltoid muscle – upper arm – of hospital frontline workers and other staff, including those who work in the cafeteria, housekeeping and maintenance.
“It was very intimidating at first because we were giving the injections to a lot of health care workers who have been doing this for years, and we are just nursing students,” Perez said, noting the vaccinations moved at a fast pace, and they exhausted their supply by 8:15 a.m. “But everyone was really nice, and I am amazed we even got the opportunity to help with this historical thing.”
“The staff at LeConte said they couldn’t thank the students enough, that it would have taken double the time without them there to help,” Lunsford added.
Pellissippi State nursing students will help administer the vaccine at Covenant Health facilities daily until Dec. 29, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when no vaccination clinics are scheduled.
“The excitement for this vaccine is greater than I expected – so many frontline workers were elated and relieved to be able to get this vaccine,” Tate said. “Having to face Covid every day with just a mask and prayers has left a lot of people just feeling blessed to be here for this opportunity and to see this day. I look forward to my future career as a nurse.”
Pellissippi State’s nursing classes are held on the college’s Blount County, Magnolia Avenue and Strawberry Plains campuses. For more information about Pellissippi State’s Nursing program, go here, email Nursing@pstcc.edu, or call 865-225-2330.
Lesli Bales-Sherrod does marketing and writing for Pellissippi State Community College.