By Shawn Ryan
Photos by Angela Foster and CHI Memorial Hospital
The vaccination process worked as efficiently as an assembly line.
Nurses at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga loaded syringes with the COVID-19 vaccine.
They handed the syringes to students from the School of Nursing at UT Chattanooga.
Students injected the vaccine into patients’ arms and tossed the used syringes into medically approved trash bins.
Then everyone did it all over again. And again.
Depending on the day, as many as 400 vaccinations might be given in a four-hour shift, says Phan Nguyen, an UTC level-one nursing student who worked some of those shifts.
“I remember, at one point in the first hour, we had 170 people come through. That was a record,” he says.
Nursing students from UTC not only volunteered at CHI Memorial and other Chattanooga hospitals. Standing outside, facing never-ending lines of cars, they gave vaccinations at multiple locations set up by the Hamilton County Health Department. They visited senior and assisted living facilities managed by the Chattanooga Housing Authority.
“It was just very eye-opening to be able to be a part of something that has taken such a toll on the society we live in and to be able to help change that,” says Briley Hurd, a level-two nursing student. Students also were involved in routine testing and vaccination of UTC students, faculty and staff.
“Whether it is providing community COVID testing, participating in contact tracing efforts or providing immunizations, the School of Nursing students and faculty have been on the forefront in filling the staffing void,” says Chris Smith, director of the UTC School of Nursing. “We certainly hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. We have tried hard not to miss the opportunities for service this response required.”
Nursing senior Emily Hohenbrink was already working at CHI Memorial in its COVID-19 ward when she volunteered to give the vaccine.
“It’s been very nice to know that I can have an impact on people and help people,” she says.
Some nursing students squeezed the vaccination volunteering into schedules already packed with classes, clinicals, studying and life in general.
“I definitely think it was worth it to work around my schedule, to be able to have that experience,” Hurd says.
Many of those being vaccinated were medical personnel, and it was a bit daunting, she adds.
“It’s very intimidating giving these vaccines to doctors and nurses,” she says. “But it was really cool to see the people who have been working the front lines during this whole pandemic.”
Janelle Reilly, CEO at CHI Memorial Health System, calls the nursing students “God’s warriors.”
“Words cannot express our gratitude to your nursing students for assisting with our health-care worker vaccination clinics,” she says. “Bless each one of you.”
Hohenbrink says she felt a bit of trepidation when giving the vaccine, worrying, “Am I doing this right? Am I going to hurt or help the patient?” But those feelings were quickly quashed.
“As a student, you’re always going to have that fear in the back of your head, but I think one of the biggest things I regret not doing in nursing school is trusting myself and giving myself credit.
“I’ve gotten through these four and a half years, and I’ve learned all this stuff. It’s there. I just need to trust myself and do it. I know what I’m doing.”
Smith says it is important for the students to be an active part of the solution.
“When they are asked in years to come, ‘What did you do to help resolve the COVID-19 pandemic?’ every one of our students should be able to respond that they played a significant role,” Smith says.
Nguyen agrees there’s pride in being involved in a process that may stop the spread of COVID-19. Being a part of history is something they will carry for the rest of their lives.
“That’s something like I can reflect on and tell my kids that I got to help fight a pandemic,” Nguyen says.