By Katherine Tam
May 19, 2021
Students and faculty from the UCSF School of Nursing have been a vital part of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, both at UCSF and across the local community, in the continuing battle against the pandemic.
Since December when the first federally approved vaccine became available, students and faculty have stepped up to help vaccinate thousands of frontline workers, patients and local residents.
Within the last few weeks, nursing volunteers helped administer vaccines to people experiencing homelessness or living in single room occupancy hotels in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, a collaborative effort led by the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, San Francisco Department of Public Health and other local partners.
And elsewhere in the community, volunteer clinical faculty member Courtney Gordon, DNP, has been leading an effort to vaccinate patients who are unable to leave their homes as part of UCSF’s Care at Home Program. Associate professor Helen Horvath, NP, and master’s student Laura Sanchez joined the effort, taking special coolers with the vaccine to patients’ homes and administering them there.
“Knowing that I played a role in providing vaccinations to some of the most vulnerable patients, in the greatest need for protection from the virus, was incredibly rewarding,” said Sanchez, who is a registered nurse. “I gained a greater understanding of what goes into coordinating such a vaccination effort; it involved everything from carefully mapping out patients’ locations, meticulously tracking freezer temperatures, monitoring the time constantly, and so many other small but important details. It truly took a dedicated, interprofessional team to make this vaccination effort successful.”
Faculty and students first jumped into action on Dec. 16, 2020, the morning the first 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at UCSF. The School’s Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs Gina Intinarelli-Schuler, PhD, RN, who is the Chief Population Health Officer for UCSF Health, helped lead the university’s multi-phased vaccination program, with priority going to frontline workers at the highest risk of contracting the virus. A multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals and students staffed the vaccine clinics for the past six months, vaccinating nearly 200,000 people.
“It was a privilege to vaccinate some of the first UCSF hospital employees,” said Sara Lezin, a critical care registered nurse who is pursuing her master’s degree at the School of Nursing to become a family nurse practitioner. “During the vaccination process, I was able to connect with hospital staff, many of whom were emotional to the point of tears after receiving their first injection. In that moment, it felt like we started to turn a corner together.”
Enrique Esteinou, a student in the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing, helped transport the vaccine from the pharmacy to the vaccine administrator, and guided people through the clinic to help ensure operations ran smoothly.
“In my last clinical rotation, the primary population was immunocompromised individuals. As someone who understands the importance of keeping a COVID-free environment, I wanted to personally help and be part of the new chapter we are all hoping for,” Esteinou said. “This is something that our frontline workers truly deserve. Protecting them and their families should continue to be a priority. We are all hoping this will set up a better start for this new year so that we can finally enjoy our time with our loved ones again.”
In addition to making a significant impact on public health, the experience has given students a unique and valuable learning experience, said assistant professor Kate Holbrook, who joined the nursing students at UCSF’s clinic.
“This is an important opportunity for MEPNs, not only as a learning experience to participate in a mass vaccination clinic and practice their clinical skills, but also to be a part of history and engage with the UCSF community in a memorable way,” Holbrook said.