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EMU nursing students volunteer at COVID-19 clinics serving community, fellow students

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Micah Shristi, director of international student services at EMU, gets a vaccination from EMU student Natalie Stoltzfus at a clinic in the Convocation Center at James Madison University. (Photo by Kate Clark/Courtesy Eastern Mennonite University)

As Virginia’s vaccine rollout spreads into the Shenandoah Valley, Eastern Mennonite University students are participating at both ends of the needle: both giving and getting the shot.

And in some cases, they’ve giving the shot to fellow students and EMU employees. According to an informal count kept by EMU Health Services, 110 students and 135 employees have received the full course of vaccines as of April 14. These numbers are based on copies of vaccination cards provided to Health Services (through covidhotline@emu.edu).

Senior nursing students in Professor Kate Clark’s community health course and associated clinical rotation this semester have been giving vaccines and aiding with processing at clinics up and down the Shenandoah Valley: in Lexington, at Augusta Health in Fishersville, the Rockingham County Fairgrounds, and Sentara RMH, the city jail and city community center in Harrisonburg. A recent afternoon saw a small group among the volunteer nurses, physicians, and other health professionals staffing a clinic in the convocation center at James Madison University.

While other rotations like shadowing in the emergency department and the ICU unit may be more exciting, Natalie Stoltzfus has enjoyed the hands-on work and the chance to contribute in an historic public health effort.

“These have been my favorite clinicals,” says Stoltzfus, who will work at Penn State Hospital Hershey after graduation. “Once you get the routine down, it’s pretty simple. Six hours goes by fast.”

According to Clark, EMU’s smaller program and long relationship with the local district of the Virginia Department of Health has contributed to unique opportunities to work small and large clinics and to interact with many different populations, including healthcare professionals, incarcerated individuals and senior citizens. [Read about spring 2020 clinical experiences and how the Class of 2020 nursing graduates finished their semester.]

Nursing students provide Q & A at campus info sessions

The knowledge students have gained as vaccinators and in the public health context has also benefited their fellow students and campus community. In mid-March, EMU Director of Health Services Irene Kniss contacted the nursing department about hosting a Q & A session.

“We knew students had lots of questions and a need for information related to the vaccines,” Kniss said. “We encourage everyone to educate themselves and our nursing students and professors could be an important and trusted resource in that process.”

On Wednesday, April 7, students in the community health nursing class, with Clark and nursing instructor Lisa Burkholder, hosted a virtual information session about COVID vaccines. Questions from the attendees ranged from possible health impacts of the vaccines, the testing process and efficacy of each type of vaccine, and the biotechnology that has been developed.

In recent weeks, Kniss, along with other area health officials, has been in near-daily communication with VDH representatives for updates about the status of vaccines arriving in the Valley. An application to host an on-campus clinic had been made in January.

EMU students now eligible for the vaccine

On April 9, students were emailed about opportunities to sign up at several local clinics hosted by the Virginia Department of Health within the Central Shenandoah Health District. The campus’s COVID Response Team has provided transportation if needed.

“Getting the covid vaccine is an act of care for the entire community,” Kniss said, adding that the more fully vaccinated the population is, the more vulnerable populations will be protected and  “the sooner we can move towards sharing spaces and seeing faces again.”

Students (and faculty and staff as well) sharing a copy of their vaccination card will no longer need to fill out the daily symptom tracker, one of several measures instituted this year to help track individual and community health.

While some universities are requiring proof of vaccination in the fall, EMU officials are still collecting information and exploring options.


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