Volunteers are working to defeat COVID-19 at vaccination sites across California. Many are motivated by a desire to protect their communities and, in the case of faculty and students from the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (KPSOM), to dedicate their medical training to the cause.
Forty-two students from KPSOM’s inaugural class spent the afternoon of Saturday, April 3 helping to administer shots at a mass vaccination site in Southern California. Under the supervision of 12 KPSOM faculty members, the students rotated through all procedures of vaccine administration and distribution, including registration and pre-vaccine evaluation, vaccine administration, post-vaccine evaluation, pharmacy (where they observed vaccine preparation and storage), and health systems issues, such as outreach to underserved communities.
In all, a record 5,915 COVID-19 vaccines were administered, the most doses provided in one day at the site to date.
“I was really glad to be doing something so meaningful and helping where needed,” said student volunteer Crystal T. Chang. “At first I was a little nervous. However, the school prepared us really well, so I got into a zone once an actual person was in front of me.”
Students received both classroom and real-world clinical experience before the volunteer event. Early during the first year of medical school, the entire student body is immersed in clinical settings as they learn alongside Kaiser Permanente physician preceptors and their care teams. In addition, the current volunteer initiative directly follows coursework and skills training in hematology and immunology that students completed in late March.
Pre-work instruction was provided by Dr. Marla Law Abrolat, Assistant Chief of Pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente San Bernardino County and KPSOM Doctoring and Clinical Skills Director, and Dr. William J. Towner, Regional Physician Director, Division of Clinical Trials Research for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and Principal Investigator for Infectious Diseases at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Towner has been extensively involved in clinical trials for emerging medications and vaccines, including the Phase III clinical trial for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Towner, who also serves as an Associate Professor and Phase 2 Doctoring Facilitator at KPSOM, spoke to the students about common concerns that arise around COVID-19 vaccination and assisted as they practiced intermuscular injections on task trainers. (The trainers are close to a real arm that can be attached to a person, mimicking what it feels like to be giving a person a vaccine.)
In addition to clinical skills, Chang utilized her interpersonal skills and language abilities in both Spanish and Chinese to assist jittery patients on-site.
“Some people were a little nervous. Many came in with multiple family members, with some serving as makeshift interpreters,” she said. “Being able to speak to them in their language helped a lot with logistics and connecting with everyone getting vaccinated. I really enjoyed hearing how people felt about getting the vaccine, their jobs, their concerns, and just being a part of an important moment in their life.”