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Student Nurses Join the Push to Vaccinate


With more vaccine in the pipeline, experts predict more of us will be inoculated against COVID in the next few months, and at some Virginia schools, nursing students are stepping up to help. They’re already on the job at VCU and Radford.  Now Sandy Hausman reports dozens are in training at UVA.

Pam Cipriano still remembers the first shot she gave as a young nurse more than 40 years ago. 

“Needles were not disposable.  You had to guard against hitting a blood vessel," she recalls. "The mechanics were very clumsy because of the equipment.”

Today, the Dean of UVA’s nursing school says technology makes things easier for nurses and less painful for their patients.

“The good news here is they’re very tiny needles, and it’s very quick.”

Still there are tricks to the trade.  Assistant Professor Vickie Southall has been working with 48 students in their final year of a bachelor’s program –fine-tuning their techniques by injecting a small, gel-filled pad and learning what to say to real patients.

“I would tell them to relax their arm," says third year student Raniyah Majied.

"What are some ways you could get them to relax their arm?" Southall asks. 

"Tell them to just drop their hand – let it dangle," Majied replies. "Tell them to wiggle their fingers, and then I just dart it at a ninety-degree angle, right?  And make sure not to touch the needle, and then cap it, and then put it in a sharps container.”

The target for injection -- two or three fingers down from a bump at the end of the shoulder known as the acromion. Simulation Debriefer Samantha Hudgins can’t always tell by looking, but she can feel for the muscle where COVID vaccine should be injected.

“I’ll say, ‘Can you just raise your arm up to your side?’" she explains.   "You can actually feel that muscle tense up if you use the palm of your hand to lift up.”

Technique aside, students wonder how much to tell their  patients. Should they, for example, discuss possible side effects?

“All my friends who had already gotten it got really, really sick, and then all the older individuals I know didn’t," one recalls.  "I asked my vaccinator, and they were like, ‘No, you’ll be fine!’  They lied!  I thought I had the flu for three days.”

Cipriano tells the students to be honest. It’s okay to talk about your personal experience but important to share the facts based on data and to explain that these side effects are not illness but an immune response – proof your body is ready to fight infection.

“Within the first 12 hours you might begin to experience these first side effects, and you can expect that they would last 24-48 hours," she says.  "For the most part within two days you’re totally back to normal.”

With one in five Americans getting information about the vaccine from Facebook and 40% learning from friends and family, nurses play an important part in public information. Professor Emma Mitchell says they’ll need to answer a range of questions and address lots of bad information.

“Things like if people can receive the vaccine if they’re pregnant, if receiving the vaccine makes you infertile – there’s a lot of misinformation that’s circulated in the community.”

The students admit to some nervousness as they prepare to go public, but they say they’re ready.

“I think it’s just exciting to help provide some light at the end of the tunnel, because this pandemic has been exhausting," Majied explains.

"It’s just a really awesome opportunity to get trained in giving vaccinations, and also we’re helping the community,"  Nicole Chun adds. 

"I have a lot of friends at other schools, and all of their experiences are online," says Naomi Element.  "I’m really grateful that I get to build my skills and not be behind screen all day.”

And Majied, who hails from Roanoke, was so gung ho that she agreed to spend a very special day in training to administer COVID vaccine.

“These are the only shots that I’ll be dealing with today, on my 21st birthday.”

***Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief
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