As a third-year medical student, Mason Montano has plenty to keep him busy: a full course load to handle on top of 50-plus hour work weeks in rotation at the hospital. But as we're trying to wrest control back from a pandemic that has taken so much, Montano wanted to give a little bit of his remaining time.
"I have my nursing license, which I have unfortunately not been able to use in a bedside capacity because school is busy. I didn't really have an outlet to do that," he said. "So I said to myself, 'I've been giving shots, vaccines, and injections for years now. Why can't I use the skill set that I already have?'"
Before volunteer opportunities were available through the School of Medicine, Montano reached out contacted professors in the School of Nursing, determined to be part of the effort. He landed volunteer spots at UNLV's point of distribution inside the Student Union, following the state protocols for delivering vaccines to currently eligible people, including health care professionals, frontline workers, senior citizens, and K-12 teachers and staff. As of Feb. 19, more than 40,000 shots had been given to Nevadans.
"Everybody seems pretty excited about it," he said. "They're excited to be part of something new and to be safe. Very few people have been reluctant. Everybody is pretty inquisitive about the process."
For nursing student Kelsey Thompson, who expects to graduate in December, volunteering has been helpful in preparing for the kinds of work scenarios she's soon to face: things like helping ease patients' anxieties and finding the most efficient ways to govern her workspace or work within teams.
But the experience also has a personal element to it. Thompson's uncle, a Type 1 diabetic, landed in the hospital with COVID-19. At first, he wasn't able to land a bed in the intensive care unit as he struggled to breathe and his blood sugar spiked. Eventually, he recovered enough to be discharged with oxygen, which he still uses occasionally even a month after the worst of the disease for him.
It makes it all the more rewarding to administer vaccine doses and offer a measure of relief to patients who have been living with all the anxiety and apprehension of the past year.
"I have the cutest little man, in his late 70s, who I vaccinated," Thompson said. "It was his second dose and he was the sweetest. I felt so good about being able to give it to him because he doesn't really have to worry as much. He can go and be with his grandchildren if he chooses to, and that's been extremely rewarding. I'm just happy to be part of the mending of the world."
Vaccination was made part of nursing students' clinical education experience, allowing another avenue for hands-on work for nursing students that underscores the need for well-trained nurses in the community.
"For some courses, these are the first in-person experiences since March 2020, so that's a really big deal for us to get back to work engaging with our local community while also meeting the clinical learning needs of our students," said Minnie Wood, the director of clinical and community partnerships at the School of Nursing. She helps organize student participation in the vaccine rollout.
"The students are responding really great to these experiences. They are mastering a skill because of the volume and repetition and getting so much opportunity to practice their communication with community members. As an instructor, I've noticed the incredible difference between the morning and the evening during a vaccination day. Students develop and progress as the day goes on and the increase in their skills and confidence throughout the day is noticeable. And what's especially great about this is that these skills — in health promotion, administering medications/vaccinations, communicating in a therapeutic way — can be extrapolated to any setting."
Junior public health student Giselle Ortiz was already in the coronavirus fight working as one of the school's contact tracers assisting the Southern Nevada Health District. Even though she was already juggling work, school, and her family, she volunteered to help with vaccination because she wanted to contribute in a more physical way than just working the phone lines.
The healthcare administration student has done everything but give out shots herself. She helps keep the operation running smoothly, from answering questions and checking in patients to running supplies and vaccine doses from refrigerators to healthcare workers, to staying with patients during their 15-minute observation period after receiving shots.
Being able to serve her community has been rewarding, she said, but the experience is also an important one in learning how crucial it is that teams function well together.
"I've done everything," she said. "With all my parts, I felt like I've contributed. We know we're a team. [Administrators] constantly ask us if we're comfortable or how they can make this better as a team to make things flow. We're all equally important here at UNLV. Everything we do matters."