Vaccinator Story

Going Where They are Most Needed: Lewis University Nursing Students Volunteer as Vaccinators

Posted April 2021

Now that the U.S. has moved into the vaccine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an unprecedented and urgent need for qualified personnel across the country to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccines. Many medical professionals have stepped up to volunteer their skills and expertise.

 “What COVID-19 has really brought to the forefront is that nursing is a service profession, nurses must go where the greatest need is, nursing students are not an exception.“ comments Julia Koklys, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, chair, Department of Nursing, Lewis University, College of Nursing and Health Science. “Right now, where student nurses are most needed is at vaccination centers.”

Unknown to most, nursing students at Lewis University have been busy with the COVID-19 vaccine administration effort since stepping up in December 2020. Due to the university’s ongoing relationship with the Will County Health Department, students and faculty completed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Vaccine Training Modules and administered more than 500 doses in the last week of 2020. These experiences help to replace some of the clinical experiences that students lost out on due to COVID-19.

“Because of the pandemic, clinical rotations were sometimes not open to students and they were justifiably disappointed,” says Koklys. “When we explained that many of the units were turned into ICUs and the nurses reassigned, understanding dawned in their eyes about what was really going on.”

Lewis nursing students have administered the vaccine to school bus drivers, emergency medical services personnel and people on the autism spectrum. Generally, Lewis students administer from 200 to 1,000 vaccine doses per week. Soon, in partnership with major pharmacy chain in the Chicago metro area, the Lewis campus will serve as vaccine administration site for adults with special needs and those who care for young children with special needs. Nursing students are planning this event with students in other disciplines such as occupational therapy, special education and speech therapy. Additionally, nursing students will be involved in helping to vaccinate those in underserved areas through local churches.

“Before the pandemic, I believe that most students saw their nursing career taking them to the bedside in a hospital. I think that students had no idea about the scope of public health or even other areas of nursing. Now that nursing students are serving as vaccinators in a community health setting, their eyes are open to other aspects of nursing.  Long-term, I wonder whether this exposure will change their minds and lead them in a different direction than they could have imagined before they had this experience,” Koklys observed.

Like most nursing programs across the country, Lewis University had to make changes to their program. They also recognized how difficult it has been for students to navigate the pandemic. Some students have gotten ill themselves or had a family member that was sick. The university knows how stressful it has been on its students and faculty but have been pleased that their NCLEX® pass rates are higher than ever.

“We have worked very hard to make this a positive experience for the students going beyond just administering the vaccine. They have been involved in learning about COVID contact tracing, epidemiology, and health and wellness promotion,” notes Koklys.

The feedback coming from those being vaccinated is overwhelmingly positive and they are extremely grateful. Students are able to experience this one-on-one with these clients and see how they are immediately impacting someone’s life with this vaccine. They can take pride in their experience and participation in this historic vaccine campaign, and someday have great stories to tell their grandchildren.