Fairfield University nursing students 'part of history' in COVID vaccination clinic

FAIRFIELD — When Lauren Jamieson heard about the opportunity to participate in Norwalk Hospital’s vaccination clinic, she jumped at the chance to participate in a historic moment.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of something that would hold such a significant place in history,” said Jamieson, a nursing student at Fairfield University. “Not only does it benefit us as nursing students and help contribute to our learning, but it allows us to come together with the healthcare community which we will be a part of in a few short months when we graduate.”

Jamieson, who has already worked two days at the clinic, said the experience of administering the COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers is something all 35 Fairfield students in the program will carry with them throughout the rest of their nursing careers.

“It’s definitely not every day that you get to say you participated in a vaccination clinic during a global pandemic that has affected so many people,” she said. “I definitely jumped at the opportunity and the experience.”

A new experience

The clinic came at a time when a lot of students in the program were getting kicked out of clinical experiences because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Michelle Saglimbene, the clinical placement coordinator at the university’s Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies.

The Yale New Haven Health System reached out to Saglimbene to see if the university had any nursing students who would be interested in participating.

“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “We got immediately, I think, over 50 students who were interested in participating in a vaccine clinic.”

Six to nine senior nursing students work at the Norwalk Hospital clinic every day. She said the students are loving the experience.

“It’s different from a normal clinical because they’re not taking care of sick people in bed,” Saglimbene said. “This is a totally new type of ‘patient.’ It’s recipients who are healthcare workers who have seen the worst of (the coronavirus pandemic).”

Saglimbene, who is also an intensive care nurse at Stamford Health, said some of the healthcare workers get very emotional when getting the vaccine — including herself.

“I cried a lot,” she said. “It’s really a huge sense of relief, a weight lifted off my chest.”

In the clinic, Saglimbene said, students are not only administering vaccinations, but also monitoring patients after they receive them. For the students, she said the clinic is like a mass experience in giving inter-muscular injections. Students also monitor patients for a reaction and screen them for medical history and medications.

“We truly are getting bits and pieces of possibly everything you could want and need,” Jamieson said.

Saglimbene assigns some students leadership roles. She said it helped build the students’ confidence to be able to say they ran a clinic.

“Hopefully, when they go into their future clinical settings as bedside nurses, they sort reflect on that experience and say ‘OK. For four hours I ran the clinic. I managed the flow. I can do this,’” Saglimbene said.

She even has one student taking photos because of how many healthcare workers want to document getting the vaccine.

“The healthcare workers are very thankful that we’re there,” she said. “The students are so thankful to be there for this really big moment in history.”

Saglimbene said hospital administrators have told her the students are invaluable to the clinic, noting they said it would not be able to “stand up” without them. She said it is a stark difference from the beginning of the pandemic when healthcare facilities were scared students would spread the virus.

She said evidence now shows it’s visitors and people in outside settings who aren’t regulated that are transmitting the virus, not the students who are tested and wear masks and face shields.

“I hope this is a step towards realizing these are valuable, necessary components of our health care team — the students,” she said.

Nursing students’ experience

Jamieson said every person coming into the clinic has been thankful to have the students there.

“You can definitely feel the hope and desire that the end is near for the COVID-19 virus,” she said. “I think it finally feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jamieson said she thinks the healthcare workers want the general public to feel the same way and to get the vaccine when it is available.

Emily Goryeb, a nursing student who starts in the clinic in January, also said it was a great opportunity to be part of history.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I think it’s so great that we get to be a part of this, especially as nursing students. We always want to be hands-on and helping everybody in the hospital and helping the nurses.”

Their work in the clinic can also alleviate some of the nurses’ stress, freeing them up so they can stay at patients’ bedsides and handle everything else at the hospital.

Goryeb said it is great that the senior nursing students can finally get back into a clinical setting and finish their hours.

Sarah Uwazany said she thought the clinic was an awesome opportunity to fulfill clinical requirements while also joining a historic moment in history.

“It kind of kills two birds with one stone, but also the vaccine is such an important part of history that almost every single nursing student in my class that I’ve talked to has signed up for that,” she said. “We really want to be a part of this as part a didactic part of our schooling.”

Uwazany, who also starts at the clinic in January, said her colleagues are describing working in the clinic as an emotional and impactful experience. She said she wants the clinic to help her continue to grow in her professional skills and her nursing skills.

She urged Connecticut residents to continue doing their part.

“Keep wearing their masks and following the guidelines the state has offered to us,” she said. “Also, to understand that this vaccine could mean a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us once its available to the general public and, from what we’ve all seen so far, the vaccine is safe and effective.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com