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First-year medical students from the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine volunteer at a COVID vaccination hub in Southern California. (Photo courtesy of the School of Medicine.)

Medical students advance vaccination, clinical skills at mass inoculation site


Kaiser Permanente medical school students apply new skills to help protect community from COVID-19

On a recent Saturday afternoon, 38 students from the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine’s inaugural class used their clinical skills to help administer shots at a mass vaccination site in Southern California.

“I was really glad to be doing something so meaningful and helping where needed,” says student volunteer Crystal T. Chang. “At first I was a little nervous. However, the school prepared us really well, so I got into a zone once an actual person was in front of me.”

A variety of volunteers are helping out at mass COVID-19 vaccination sites across California, often motivated by a desire to protect their communities. For the Pasadena, Calif.-based School of Medicine’s faculty and students, the volunteer opportunity also allowed them to dedicate their medical training to the cause.

Under the supervision of 11 medical school faculty members, the first-year medical students rotated through all procedures of vaccine administration and distribution, including registration and pre-vaccine evaluation, vaccine administration, post-vaccine evaluation, pharmacy, and health system issues, such as outreach to underserved communities.

In all, a record 5,915 COVID-19 vaccines were administered — the most doses provided in one day at the site to date.

Real-world clinical experience

Students received both classroom and real-world clinical experience before the volunteer event. Early in their first year of medical school, students are immersed in clinical settings as they learn alongside physician instructors and other care team members from Kaiser Permanente. The COVID-19 vaccination volunteer initiative directly follows coursework and skills training in hematology and immunology that students completed in late March.

Prior to volunteering, instruction was provided by Marla Law Abrolat, MD, assistant chief of Pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente San Bernardino County and School of Medicine doctoring and clinical skills director, and William J. Towner, MD, director and principal investigator of the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Dr. Towner is also extensively involved in clinical trials for emerging medications and vaccines, including phase 3 clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Towner, who also serves as a School of Medicine associate professor, spoke to the students about common concerns around COVID-19 vaccination and assisted as they practiced intermuscular injections on task trainers. (The trainers simulate a real arm and can be attached to a person, mimicking what it feels like to give vaccines.)

In addition to clinical skills, Chang flexed her interpersonal and language skills in both Spanish and Chinese to assist jittery patients on-site.

“Some people were a little nervous. Many came in with multiple family members, with some serving as makeshift interpreters,” she says. “Being able to speak to them in their language helped a lot with logistics and connecting with everyone getting vaccinated. I really enjoyed hearing how people felt about getting the vaccine, their jobs, their concerns, and just being a part of an important moment in their life.”

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