Making an impact

Osteopathic Medical Students Offer Reports from Vaccination Clinics

Students reflect on the unique opportunity to contribute to a critically important public health effort.

Hundreds of osteopathic medical students are administering vaccines to the public at health clinics in their areas under physician faculty supervision. Two SOMA leaders and several students from the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine campus in Tulsa (OSU-COM) and Tahlequah (OSU-COM Tahlequah) offered their first-person accounts:

Alana Castro-Gilliard, OMS III
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia Campus

My core rotation hospital has medical students from an MD school, directly affiliated with the hospital, and from my DO school, a hospital affiliate. The students at both schools carry on exceptionally well. However, the administrative differences between our schools became apparent when the MD medical students were vaccinated alongside the other staff at the hospital while the 10 DO students were not included within the vaccination distribution plan. This is an example of logistical confusion that was not meant to be malicious. However, I felt unaccounted for.

I am proud to say that student advocacy and innovation at my school played a large part in students receiving the vaccine. In early January, a student contacted the local public health department to verify that we qualified within the CDC guidelines for Group 1A vaccine distribution as third-year medical students. The staff offered her the first dose of the vaccine on the same day. She later shared her story with our classmates, and they took the same actions to receive a vaccine; National SOMA consequently shared this approach with its members, which led to countless success stories nationally from medical students.

As you can imagine, public health departments are chronically underfunded and understaffed. Department employees were overwhelmed with the amount of student callers. Our school was able to organize a vaccine clinic with priority for medical students within one week. I received my first dose the following Monday.

For the next few days, I kept a steady eye on vaccine clinic availability for a second dose. I was able to secure a spot, although many of my classmates had to wait well outside of the recommended time frame. It took months for my state to develop a pre-registration website accessible to Spanish speakers, and more time after that for it to develop a hotline for those that do not have access to the internet. In the meantime, I found myself supporting patients by sharing these resources during encounters and contacting local pharmacies to add patients to vaccine waitlists.

What I will take to heart as a patient advocate is that in order for public health departments to be proactive in a time of a health crisis such as this, we need to financially support these departments at all times.

Melanie Weyers, OMS II
Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine

I have felt conflicted throughout the pandemic about wanting to be able to actively help the community address the pandemic, while at the same time not being in a designated clinical position to do so. Besides wearing my mask, social distancing, and limiting unnecessary exposure, I have felt like a sitting duck, just waiting until June when I can pull up my scrubs, lace my tennis shoes and begin my clinical rotations working alongside colleagues who have been at it for over a year.

After a month of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines having received emergency use authorization, I was excited when I received an email from our school, in partnership with our affiliate hospital, inviting students to volunteer at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Seeing the pure joy behind a patient’s mask (and sometimes tears) and hearing the stories of excited grandparents eager to finally be able to hug their grandchildren after a year has been incredibly rewarding.

However, public health departments and vaccination clinics are constantly trying to hit a moving target. I have worked at the vaccination clinic on days we vaccinated 400 patients and others we vaccinated over 1,100 patients. The huge inconsistencies in patient numbers, coupled with the constantly fluctuating vaccine allocation, resource shortages, and funding deficits make for a logistical nightmare when it comes deciding who may receive the vaccine and when they are able to receive it.

Unfortunately, many patients have experienced hurdles to receiving their vaccine – not because of lack of availability, but rather because of barriers such as illiteracy, language, and internet access. I witnessed this at my local health department when I met a woman who was frustrated because she did not have access to the internet and thus did not have access to making an appointment for her vaccine. She qualified for the vaccine but was unable to get it because there were not resources in place at the health department to allow her access to the internet. The only solution offered to her was to go to the local library, which had been closed for months due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I was able to help this one woman make her appointment on my phone, but the real tragedy is that there are so many other people just like her who will not be afforded that opportunity. This is an unfortunate and all too common situation where infrastructure, funding, and public health resources were sadly lacking and negatively impacting members of the community in a public health crisis.

Our stories depict a common theme. It is vital that public health departments receive appropriate funding necessary to provide consistent care to all the members of the community they serve. The pandemic has required leaders to make reactive decisions. It is our hope that the lessons learned over the past year will be used to proactively set into motion procedures and protocols to address logistical hurdles in access, availability, and education for the future to benefit the community and the osteopathic medical students serving in local community hospitals.

Jonas Weygandt, OMS I
OSU-COM Tahlequah

Jonas Weygandt, OMS I

I am honored and thankful to play a small part in this great undertaking by our community, our state and our country. Providing hands-on patient care to members of our community is why I came to OSU and why I am pursuing this dream of becoming an osteopathic physician. The Cherokee Nation has been a leader in the fight against COVID-19 and continues to be one in the rollout of the vaccine to end this pandemic.

Not only have I learned how to physically give a vaccination, but I have also learned how vaccine operations are run and the importance of attentive, patient-focused care. I know these experiences will play a critical role in my journey to become an osteopathic physician. The values of osteopathic medicine, focused on holistic and patient-focused health care, are what drew me to OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation. I hope to continue to live out these values as an osteopathic physician to serve my community and be a catalyst for change in the health care of my patients.

Tiga Wright, OMS II
OSU-COM

Tiga Wright, OMS II

Being a part of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was an experience I did not anticipate when I first began medical school, but is a role that I am happy we are able to participate in. The people who have come to receive their vaccine at the OSU Medicine Healthcare Center have been so appreciative of the work OSU is doing for the Tulsa area. Seeing a patient’s excited eyes looking at you while they receive a shot is not a sight I believe any health care worker is used to seeing, pre-COVID.

I have learned about injections, techniques and the Moderna vaccine and had the opportunity to take part in first-hand patient encounters.

Kenzie Enmeier, OMS I
OSU-COM Tahlequah

Kenzie Enmeier, OMS I

Volunteering at the COVID-19 vaccine clinics has been a highlight of my semester so far. Having this early clinical opportunity has been a great way for first-year medical students to take their initial steps in learning how to become a physician and interact with real patients. Having that first interaction with patients under our belts will help us down the road when we enter our clinical years of medical school. I look forward to more interactions and opportunities like these.

Jesi Whitley, OMS II
OSU-COM

Jesi Whitley, OMS II

At OSU Medicine’s vaccination site, student volunteers and medical personnel work as a team to administer COVID-19 vaccines, provide patient monitoring post-vaccine, and also help educate patients about the vaccine. As osteopathic medical students, we are taught that patient care is multifaceted, meaning it involves more than just treating an existing disease or illness, but also preventing the onset of future illness.

I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity to volunteer at the COVID-19 vaccine site and to witness firsthand prevention in practice. By administering the vaccines, we are helping to reduce the risk of individuals contracting COVID-19, while also helping reduce the risk of chronic illness associated with the disease. I value this chance to serve my community by promoting the health and safety of its members.

Shelby Cummins, OMS I
OSU-COM Tahlequah

Shelby Cummins, OMS I

Administering vaccines is definitely a memorable way to start the second semester of medical school. Since we have spent so much time behind screens and textbooks, it is a nice change of scenery to see people face-to-face, or rather mask-to-mask. The Cherokee Nation continues to partner with us in our education by giving us the chance to impact their community in this way. The vaccine pods are located in the space that we used for exams and OMM labs last semester, so we know it well. The patients are all so happy to receive this vaccine; they see it as a stepping-stone to a return to normal life. They are so excited that we are here to learn in their community, and they like to ask questions about our new building.

For me, these patient interactions are a good reminder not only of why I want to be a physician, but also why I chose to be an osteopathic physician. I like people. I enjoy getting to know them and their families. I want to be a part of their lives, and not just part of their health care. In this pandemic, it’s becoming clearer than ever that physical health is tied closely to mental, emotional, and social well-being. An osteopathic physician is trained to look at all of these aspects of health and treat accordingly. I like to think that by interacting with these patients, many of whom have only been out of the house for essential needs, we give them the human connections that seem hard to come by right now. By doing so, we don’t just impact their health with a vaccine, but hopefully by giving them a happy interaction, too.

Wilson Sprinkles, OMS II
OSU-COM

Wilson Sprinkles, OMS II

As part of our service-learning course, we’re encouraged to get out and help the community in any way we can. So when this historic opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance to participate. It feels amazing to be able to help. The pandemic has affected people on so many different levels, so to be able to be here and be a small part of the effort is really incredible. It does feel like we’re on an upturn, and everyone is feeling very positive.

This experience of working as a team with other health care professionals and my fellow students, and interacting with patients in this way has helped me prepare for my future as a doctor. You gain a greater appreciation for human connection and compassion. Being that person who’s there for someone when they really need it is so important right now.

Related reading:

Osteopathic medical students join nationwide COVID vaccination effort

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