University of Arizona Health Sciences students from the College of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy spent the final week of October getting clinical experience that has been harder to come by in 2020. Many students leapt at the chance to participate in a flu clinic to get hands-on experience with patients, citing changes made to their classroom curricula in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When flu shot-seeking members of the Wildcat community showed up at two on-campus clinics, they encountered appropriately distanced immunization stations staffed by pharmacy and nursing students decked out in masks and face shields, wielding cleaning spray, hand sanitizer and flu shots. By the time they wrapped up, they had given nearly 1,000 doses of the flu shot to their fellow students.
Gaining experience and confidence
“The college is doing what it can with alternative options and online simulations, but I’m ready to jump on any clinical opportunity that arises and go get some experience,” said Hailey Finn, who is working toward her Master’s Entry to the Profession of Nursing (MEPN) degree. “Because of the pandemic, clinical opportunities are pretty limited for us right now.”
“That’s one of the reasons I signed up,” said second-year PharmD student Sammy Zimmerman. “I woke up at 5 in the morning to get down here and get some practice giving immunizations, because I haven’t done one since last year when we were starting school.”
For some students, the flu shot clinic was their first time giving a shot to a patient, though they had all received thorough training as part of their coursework. While several students said they initially worried about causing pain, they all reported gaining confidence and poise after just a few minutes on the job.
“This morning when I came in, my heart was pounding,” said Zimmerman, whose previous experience giving shots was in class, practicing with her friend and classmate. “This isn’t my best friend, this is someone from the community, and I’m scared because this is my first one. After I think the third one, I stopped shaking.”
Several students said they thought it was important to convey confidence. If a patient senses a provider is uneasy, that anxiety could be contagious.
“This was my first time giving a flu shot,” Finn said. “I was a little bit nervous, but trying not to let it show to the patient. I don’t want to make them nervous, too.”
“I emphasize being comfortable around the patient and showing confidence, so they have confidence in what you’re doing,” said second-year PharmD student Judy Mburu. “It does prepare us in terms of giving flu shots and being comfortable doing it in the long run.”
Preparing for the future
For service-minded future nurses and pharmacists, whose chosen careers will put them in clinics and communities, outreach opportunities like these flu shot clinics are a perfect fit.
“We get to help people and we get to practice,” Mburu said. “We get to meet other people in the same field and also from other fields. It’s pretty cool.”
“I came down here because I want to help people get access to health care,” Zimmerman said. “Everyone’s getting their flu shot because it protects them, but it also protects others. We’re all living in the same community.”
The students agreed that in-person service learning is a crucial part of their education, giving them experiences that never could be replicated in textbooks, such as building rapport with patients.
“I can sit at home and poke an orange, and I’ll get the mechanics down eventually, but it’s so much different when you’re dealing with a real person,” Finn said. “This is one of the first clinical opportunities I’ve had. Learning how to talk to real patients, how to approach them, keep them at ease, educate them, all of that is really important. Those are kind of the skills we’re getting here.”