As she watched the COVID-19 pandemic take thousands of U.S. lives and affect many more, University of North Georgia nursing student Kaley Pitts felt anxious to help. After years of training and studying in the nursing program, she jumped at the opportunity to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.
Pitts is one of 83 UNG students who have been trained and are now helping to administer the vaccine, Nina Myer, UNG nursing faculty member said.
“My heart and everything in me has a passion to help others so it was so hard to sit and watch people suffer from the virus and not be able to help,” Pitts said. “Now I finally have a way to help like how I’ve been trained to.”
A similar program began at Brenau University earlier this year.
Alan Satterfield, who works with the Hall County Health Department, contacted the University of North Georgia about training students to assist with the vaccine distribution, Myer said. The students are assigned to five different health departments including Hall County, Dawson County, Union County, Lumpkin County and White County. All 83 students are seniors set to graduate in May. Due to COVID-19 related policies, only two students can be present at a health department per day, Myer said.
“Because of COVID, we have had a lot of limitations with that. So this has provided another outlet for students to do clinical, so it just serves so much of their needs,” Myer said.
The nursing students are required to work at least two days out of the semester, which ends April 30. Myer said before administering a vaccine, each student undergoes one virtual Georgia emergency preparedness system training session. Once the student arrives at their designated health department, they administer the first two vaccines with a nurse. The following vaccines the students administer are also supervised by the department staff and nurses, Myer said.
On Pitts’ first day administering the vaccines, she said one patient told her it felt like “Christmas morning.” She admitted she felt emotional watching the relief on each patient's face and listening to what the vaccine meant to each of them.
“(One patient) said that he hadn't seen his grandchildren since the pandemic had started,” Pitts said. “When I was giving him his vaccine, I asked him if he was going to see them now that he was vaccinated, and he said, ‘Oh, you better believe that I'm about to run to them.’”
UNG senior Marquise Pruitt said her work in the vaccine distribution showed her the value of the vaccine. She said her patients lit up with joy, as the vaccine made them feel safe again to go grocery shopping or visit family.
Pruitt, who plans to become an Intensive Care Unit nurse, said this experience has taught her bedside manner and given her a glimpse into the healthcare field. Pruitt and Pitts work at their designated health department about once a month and with each visit they love the work and patients more.
“I definitely just love it because I feel like I'm in the fight or I feel like I'm right alongside the nurses. I'm helping. I'm helping them out with all of this that's going on,” Pruitt said.
Pitts said her vaccination work has made her thankful for her career choice and the university. She said her cohort has struggled navigating nursing school amid the pandemic. However, while administering vaccines she said she realized she loves the work and that alone will make all the struggles worth it, come graduation.
“It makes me so thankful because I know I'm gonna wake up every day and love what I do,” Pitts said. “Obviously, there'll be hard days but taking care of those people and seeing their reactions and things like that that makes it all worth it.”