Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, Southern Institute of Technology Nursing students have been proving their worth and perfecting skills for their profession; they are being mobilised to assist the Southland community with the Covid vaccination roll-out.
Johanna Rhodes, Head of School of Nursing at SIT said, “We’ve been involved and training our students for this since 2020, and in April of this year, all year three students were educated to be provisional vaccinators.” Provisional vaccinators are certified to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.
Since April, the Nursing students have had placements in Covid clinics in Invercargill – Civic Theatre and Unichem Waikiwi Pharmacy, with some also applying for and gaining paid positions at Unichem Waikiwi Pharmacy and Awarua Whānau Services.
“Waikiwi (Pharmacy) initially approached us to see if we could help in supplying students, which we could, and some students were also successful in securing employment in this role.” Ms Rhodes said the businesses had been “phenomenal at organising the students’ shifts around their other commitments”, allowing the students to work at the clinics and still meet their study requirements.
Ms Rhodes said the collaborations have been able to happen because of the co-operation between everyone involved. “It’s been really easy to work with Awarua Whanau Services, Unichem Waikiwi Pharmacy and latterly, Fonterra. They’ve all been amazing.”
Ms Rhodes said last week the student nurses were invited to assist at Fonterra Edendale’s pop-up Covid vaccine clinic, with the year two students assisting in assessment and administration roles, and year three students vaccinating Fonterra staff.
There are also a small number of transition students – those on their final placement before they register as nurses – who are involved in Covid testing. “They were required to complete additional training for this role, provided through the Ministry of Health,” Ms Rhodes said.
Kim Spooner is a transition nurse who is certified as a provisional vaccinator, and is one of a number of SIT student nurses who are helping to meet the need for vaccinators in the Southland community. She’s been on placement at the Civic Theatre Clinic, Awarua Whānau Services and Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust’s vaccination clinic in Bowmont Street.
She says of the experience: “It’s been amazing, I’ve absolutely loved it. Working with Māori and Pacifika who are higher risk communities with generally poorer health outcomes – being able to help and give back to that community has so much meaning.”
She said they’d also seen many of the Brazilian community come in and described how the pandemic had impacted those who had family sick, or die back in Brazil: “I’ve seen people cry tears of joy at being able to be part of that (vaccination roll-out), for me to be a part of it, to share that journey with them, it’s very valuable.”
Those personal connections are important, she said, as it also stopped the vaccination process feeling like a production line of people at times, especially when it was busy. “It’s nice to pause and connect with the public. There have been opportunities to have a chat and engage with people in a relaxed and friendly way.”
She was aware of always putting her best foot forward because she knew many people were living in isolation. “Especially with the elderly, you might be the only human interaction in their day, so you want to make it count for them.”
There were multiple rewards for the students involved in the vaccination roll-out. Adding to their skill base, making connections with the public, “and being able to comfort and reassure people, as some people are still asking questions”. Making a difference mattered too, “particularly for myself working with Māori and Pasifika,” said Ms Spooner.
Assisting in the roll-out also provided more variety for them as she said there were limited options available for placements in primary care for transition nurses. “We’re very fortunate that we get to be out at all. There’s always something you can take and learn from, in every situation, and I get to carry these skills for the rest of my career.”
Ms Spooner had seen firsthand the lack of vaccinators as the vaccination roll-out ramped up, and they were filling a need in providing an essential and timely service to meet the increasing demand. “It feels like we’re doing a good job and we’re making a difference,” she said.