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The Room Where It Happens: PLU Nursing Majors Help Community Members Take Their Shot

The Room Where It Happens: PLU Nursing Majors Help Community Members Take Their Shot

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A PLU nursing student administers at a COVID-19 vaccine in PLU's Olson Gym.

Image: PLU senior nursing major Erin Hobbs administers a COVID-19 vaccine. (photos and video by John Froschauer/PLU)

March 31, 2021
By Veronica Craker
PLU Marketing and Communications

On a chilly February morning, cars packed the parking lot of the Pacific Lutheran University Olson Fieldhouse. There was no basketball game or volleyball match enticing the visitors, but rather a historic event that brought visitors in that day. It was the first of many COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled to take place at PLU.

The event was co-hosted by PLU, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, MultiCare Health System, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, and volunteers included PLU nursing students, faculty and staff. The goal was to vaccinate as many people as possible from communities facing access and equity barriers to healthcare.

“This is one of the few opportunities where you’re going to give someone a shot and they’re going to say, ‘thank you’ after,” senior nursing student Erin Hobbs said.

Hobbs, who is from Lacey, Washington, was one of 22 nursing students reviewing paperwork, filling vaccine vials, administering shots and waiting with the patients afterward to ensure they were OK to leave. 

“Some other clinics have a system where essentially they drive through in their cars, you poke them and then they leave,” said Hobbs. “But with this system, we’re able to sit down with them, have a conversation with them and make them feel comfortable. It was just really wholesome and it was really beautiful.”

Hobbs is a third-generation PLU student, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, mother and aunt and uncle. 

“My aunt and uncle Lara and Jeff Dabbs were very active at PLU and even met here,” Hobbs said. “They bought me my first piece of Lute gear for my 16th birthday — a pair of sweats I still own — and they greatly influenced my desire to come here.”

Hobbs, who raises horses, said she never considered pursuing nursing. In fact, she was dead set against it growing up. She credits a discussion with a blacksmith for making her rethink the decision. 

“What really flipped the switch for me was a conversation with my local farrier about how I liked math and science and wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with that, and he said ‘go into a career where a machine can’t replace you, and you’ll always be needed,’ and that really stuck with me,” she said. “You truly cannot replace a nurse’s role in healthcare.”

Part of the PLU School of Nursing’s mission is to engage clinical and community partners in compassionate care for individuals, families, communities, and the world. That was no more evident than during the vaccine drive as community members streamed onto the Memorial Gym floor in an effort to protect themselves and others from the deadly virus. 

“When we think about service and care, this event fits really closely with the mission of not only PLU but also the school of nursing,” said Dana Zaichkin, a nursing professor who also volunteered for the event.  “I really enjoyed being a part of this.”

Currently on sabbatical from PLU, Zaichkin is working with colleagues at the University of Washington to create a uniform means of tracking, reporting, and benchmarking data for local and state public health departments. He heard about the clinic and jumped at the chance to continue PLU’s longstanding tradition of working with healthcare agencies to serve the community. 

“PLU has been a great (community) partner in terms of the pandemic response,” Zaichkin said. “The university is part of the solution versus part of the problem and this is just one other part of that.”

While the goal of the clinic was to help stop the spread of COVID-19, it was also a chance for nursing students to gain valuable, hands-on experience. PLU nursing professor Lorena Guerrero noted the importance of the event in providing that platform for students. 

“Students have been wanting to become more involved in the pandemic,” she said while also volunteering her time at the clinic. “A lot of their clinicals have been affected, in one way or another, by the logistics and the surge in patients that a lot of hospitals have had. Things like this where a student can spend seven hours giving shots and learning about the logistics of a vaccination clinic like this — I know that this has been an experience that they are not going to have in their lifetime again. At least I hope that they are not.” 

Hobbs says the experience has forced her to elevate her people skills as she works one-on-one with patients during the clinics. “Something that we really strive for here at PLU is therapeutic communication. Something that has been really hard throughout this pandemic is making sure that people feel safe and that they feel healthy because it’s this constant state of unknown. It could be just cracking a couple of jokes (that) can honestly brighten people’s moods and it makes them feel more comfortable with you.”

The opportunity to take part in a historic moment by administering life-changing vaccinations has certainly left an impact on the PLU community and students, like Hobbs, who are looking to pay it forward. 

“You can tell when people come through that they’re nervous, they’re scared,” said Hobbs. “Getting them to open up and using your resources to gauge their level of understanding and to give them empathy and see where they are has been really helpful.”

Since that first February clinic, thousands of community members have received their COVID-19 vaccine at one of three events at PLU (with at least one still to come). In a few short months, the senior nursing students who volunteered will fan out to hospitals and clinics throughout the Northwest where they will continue their calling to devote themselves to the welfare of those in their care and do their part in curtailing this deadly virus.  

A PLU student walks a patient through a medical form at the vaccine event.
A PLU nursing student walks a patient through a pre-vaccination form.

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