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NMCC nursing students get first-hand experience at Houlton vaccine clinic

HOULTON, Maine — Four nursing students from Northern Maine Community College got a unique learning experience at Houlton Regional Hospital — helping administer COVID-19 vaccines to eligible patients. 

The students, who originally are from the Houlton area, have normal clinics and lessons at the hospital, instead of having to travel an hour away to NMCC’s campus in Presque Isle. When HRH scheduled a vaccine clinic to be held on Wednesday, March 31, NMCC clinical instructor Sarah Carr saw an opportunity for collaboration. 

“We kind of rotate them around — they’re administering doses, they’re helping with traffic flow and giving information about COVID vaccines to patients that are coming in,” Carr said. “It’s generally only just a few students at a time.”

The students work the whole day at the clinic, which lasts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The number of patients coming into the hospital to receive either their first or second shots of vaccine can be up to around 60 people per hour, meaning the students are able to fill in as volunteers to help administer all the doses that are needed. 

The vaccine clinics are held at the hospital’s Center for Community Education, located on the second floor of the hospital. Patients arrive via elevator, and those receiving their first shot are given a form containing all the information about the vaccine doses. Once they receive their vaccine, patients sit in a waiting room for 15 to 30 minutes to ensure they don’t develop any allergic reactions to the vaccine. 

The four students working the March 31 clinic were Tyra Gentle, Elizabeth Ward, Kira Schools and Dynel Shannon. Traci Peabody, the chief nursing officer at HRH, said the opportunity to collaborate with the vaccine clinic was an invaluable experience for the students. 

“It’s a great exposure for them,” she said. “We look at them as our future nurses here, so it’s a great collaboration.” 

It also gives the students the chance to practice giving what are known as intramuscular, or IM shots, something that would be rare for them during normal times, according to Ellen Bartlett, the infectious disease specialist at the hospital. 

“They don’t usually get the opportunity to practice IM shots on patients,” Bartlett said. “Normally, you have to wait for someone who comes in to get a tetanus shot on a day they’re doing clinicals.”

In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, HRH has received 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires a single shot to be effective. The hospital plans to hold  another clinic with the remainder of the J&J vaccines on April 1, with another clinic to be held sometime next week. 

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