‘Amazing Real Life Experience'

UMass Lowell nursing students

NBC Boston
By Malcolm Johnson

From learning online to learning on the frontline -- more than 120 UMass Lowell nursing students are helping administer COVID-19 vaccines at a mass vaccination clinic in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The partnership with Lowell General Hospital began last month and pairs healthcare workers from the hospital with nursing students from the university's College of Health Sciences.

Together, they have vaccinated more than 25,000 Massachusetts residents. The vaccination site has gone from administering 400 vaccines a day to around 2,000 each day in less than a month. Hospital staff say they'll continue expanding and delivering as many vaccines as they can going forward -- and students will continue to contribute to the vaccination effort.

Nursing student Catherine Woods, a junior at UMass Lowell, says it was difficult to adjust to online learning, and she was eager to finally get a chance to learn in person.

“Adapting to online school was a little bit difficult. Especially in the nursing program. It requires a lot of in-person experience to kind of learn,” Woods said.

But required hands-on learning quickly became available shortly after the vaccines did. Woods and more than 115 of her classmates were requested by Lowell General Hospital to assist with their mass vaccination clinic.

“I never would’ve imagined starting my nursing career in a pandemic,” she said. "For the last year I’ve had to kind of sit back and watch. This is my first chance to get in there and I know I was just really eager to finally help out and do my part.”

Students have done their part for three weeks with tasks including registering patients and administering vaccines.

“The students have just had an amazing real life experience. They have made it really possible for us to scale up,” said Diane Regan of Lowell General Hospital. "We started out seeing about 400 patients a day and we’ve moved up to around 2,000 patients a day receiving their vaccines.”

These student volunteers are gaining professional experience during a historic pandemic; it's a feat that will forever mark their place in it, according to Shortie McKinney, dean of UMass Lowell's College of Health Sciences.

“They’re going to have stories to tell their family now and especially I like to think about decades from now when they’ve got grandchildren they’re going to be able to tell their grandchildren what they did during the great pandemic,” McKinney said.