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GCC students gain real-world experience at COVID-19 vaccine clinic

  • Greenfield Community College nursing student Kay Lopez vaccinates Brighton resident Tyler Laszewski. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield Community College nursing student Alyssa Rodriguez gives Gill resident Diane Boutin her second COVID-19 vaccination at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield Community College nursing professor emeritus Cheri Ducharme supervises her two nursing students Kay Lopez and Alyssa Rodriguez as they prepare to vaccinate Tyler Laszewski, rear, of Brighton. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Report
Published: 4/23/2021 3:30:20 PM

GREENFIELD — Nursing students at Greenfield Community College have been getting hands-on experience and providing an essential service to the community by volunteering at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Greenfield’s John Zon Community Center.

According to a GCC press release, for each session at the Pleasant Street clinic, two students work with GCC nursing professor emeritus Cheri Ducharme. While Ducharme takes care of documentation, the students administer the vaccines, learning about patient communication and care in the process.

“This is one of those things that you love to do,” Ducharme said. “The people are so happy that you’re there and I have never seen a clinic run so well. It’s a joy to go.”

The volunteer opportunity has been a welcome one for GCC’s nursing program, given the challenges of education during the COVID-19 pandemic, the release explains. Clinical hours have been limited, with students only being able to participate in clinical rotations every other week in Massachusetts. On the off weeks, they participate in virtual simulations.

In addition, the release states, students who haven’t been able to go to their clinical site each week have participated in the Pioneer Valley Interprofessional Education Collaborative, where they collaborate on developing a patient’s plan of care with a group of students from pharmacy, physician assistant, social work, physical therapy and occupational therapy programs.

Nursing students also took part in COVID-19 testing events on the GCC campus. As the vaccine became available, Karyn Skiathitis, assistant dean of nursing, saw another opportunity for students to be involved. According to the release, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing approved student participation in vaccine clinics as valid clinical experience, so Skiathitis contacted GCC Public Safety Officer Alex Wiltz and Greenfield Interim Health Director Jennifer Hoffman to offer the students’ services.

After months of studying remotely, student Jiayi Yang said she has been very happy to work at the vaccine clinic.

“I really wanted to use my knowledge to connect with the community and practice my skills,” she said. “Everybody over there is very supportive and you can talk to a lot of people that are in the profession.”

“The practice we were able to get at the clinic was probably the most valuable experience I’ve had to date,” added student Abigail Gibavic. “It gave us the opportunity to have actual patient interaction — practicing procedure, bedside manner — really what it would be like to have patients for a visit, start to finish.”

For Gibavic, the highlight of the experience has been the confidence she’s felt after working at the clinic.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done something for the community,” she said. “I’m feeling empowered and feeling like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be a nurse.’”

The vaccine clinic has also allowed GCC’s nursing program to give back to a community in which many residents have helped support the program financially, the release states.

“I believe that the operative word in Greenfield Community College is ‘community’ and the COVID crisis has impacted everyone in our community,” Skiathitis said. “We’re glad to have an opportunity to participate in an effort that may decrease the outbreak of COVID, keep people healthier and safer, and get us somewhere back to a normal situation.”

Skiathitis said she is hopeful that the nursing program will be fully in-person in the fall, but that will depend on state requirements.

“Our faculty is really anxious to get back to face-to-face teaching,” she said, “and although our students come to clinical once a week and go to lab once a week, they do feel isolated. We really try to create a learning community here, and that’s much harder to do under these circumstances.”


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