Georgetown Nursing Helps Promote Public Health Through COVID-19 Efforts

Students pose in a line in their clinical attire
Clinical Nurse Leader Program students from the Class of 2021 at a recent vaccination clinic that Georgetown collaborated on with the District of Columbia government. From left to right: Jordan Smith, Lucy Gao, Ky Nguyen, Giovanna Kolofer, Elizabeth Douglass

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April 9, 2021 – Georgetown nursing students, faculty, and graduates have been working to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities through participation in COVID-19 vaccination and testing.

Dr. Lois Wessel (G’97), an assistant professor in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, volunteers with the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps to administer vaccines in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

“My brother asked me why I’m volunteering, and I said, ‘Because I have something to offer the world during the pandemic,’” Wessel remembered. “I’d love to look back and feel like I did something to help end it.” 

‘Much Hope and Joy’

“Watching the months of frustration and fear lifted from people gives me much hope and joy,” said Wessel, who noted a common sense of rejoicing among the many individuals she has vaccinated.

Linda Scott, adjunct faculty in public health nursing, has volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps in Virginia for both COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

Wessel, who speaks Spanish, has tried to work at sites that serve the counties’ Latino communities, which, she said, have suffered a great deal during the pandemic. 

“Often, at the end of the visit, I hear, ‘Dios te paga…’ or ‘God will pay you…,’” she recounted, “and I’m filled with the satisfaction of helping to prevent another COVID case in my community.”

Supporting GU Collaborations

Nursing faculty and students have also been participating at clinics sponsored by MedStar Health, as well as through a Georgetown partnership with the DC government on a high-capacity vaccination site.

“Although this was the first client health care encounter that many of the student volunteers had experienced, I was gratified to observe the poise, respect, and professionalism each of them displayed during their interactions with every individual seeking vaccination,” said Dr. Jean Farley (NHS’72, DNP’16), a faculty member who has been participating at the Entertainment and Sports Arena vaccination site in Ward 8.

Dr. Diane Davis (NHS’78, DNP’18), assistant professor of professional nursing practice, has also been at this site and complimented both organizers and the medical and nursing student vaccinators.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of serving our community in this way and to be a part of this worldwide effort to get to the other side of the pandemic,” said Davis.

Dr. Melody Wilkinson, associate professor and previous director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, has been on leave this year in order to work, via the CDC Foundation, in the state of West Virginia. She is director of strategic operations and preparedness for the Governor’s Joint Interagency Task Force – COVID 19 Vaccine (JIATF).

Dr. Margaret Nolan, assistant professor of professional nursing practice, has volunteered since December with the Fairfax County Medical Reserve Corps and participated in the DC-Georgetown clinic in March.

“I have been vaccinating because it is something that I can do to directly affect the health of the public, and I find it personally reaffirming,” said Nolan, also the interim director of the BSN Program. “In this time where we have all had our lives and livelihood changed, participating in vaccination clinics lets you feel as if you are striking back at the virus and making a positive change in the lives of others and the direction of our country.” 

Nursing and Public Health

Professor Susan Coleman previously served as chair of the Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association and, in her role as a faculty member in the Department of Professional Nursing Practice, has helped coordinate BSN and CNL student involvement in testing and vaccine clinics, including with individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Having students learn about public health during this time of both the COVID pandemic and increasing recognition of racism as a public health problem has been both eye-opening and frustrating,” she said, underlining a chronic issue with too little funding for prevention efforts.

Nursing students, Coleman said, have shared information with individuals about the vaccine, done vaccinations, helped with the observation period following the vaccine, and planned better strategies for achieving vaccine accessibility. 

“Nursing students are seeing firsthand how public health is impacted when the infrastructure for a mass response has been under-resourced,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have nursing students involved in multiple levels of the effort.”

Clarisza Runtung (G’21), a student in the Clinical Nurse Leader Program, has been helping vaccinate individuals for COVID-19.

‘Going Through This Together’

Clarisza Runtung (G’21), a student in the Clinical Nurse Leader Program, has taken part in the COVID-19 vaccine effort.

“Having worked with various populations living in various zip codes, I realize that no one pandemic experience is the same,” she said. “As ingrained in our nursing education, patient-centered care is the heart of our nursing care. I make sure to take my time, listen to their stories, and be with them as they process the feelings that come up as they’re about to receive the vaccine.” 

Runtung described how hate crimes and racism have added so much stress to the already extraordinarily difficult pandemic. 

“As a Chinese-Indonesian, a nursing student, and a non-U.S. citizen student, I have been feeling unsafe,” she said. “Even so, I believe as human beings our greatest strength and only certainty is hope. Words fail to fully express how much of an honor it has been to be a vaccinator and help my patients revive this sense of hope.”

Said Runtung: “But especially, it is me who feels eternally humbled and indebted to every single one of my patients, who renew my strength, resilience, and hope, every single time. We are going through this together.”

(Also read a recent story about FNP alumna Jessica Landau of the Class of 2020 who is now the manager of a COVID-19 vaccine site.)

By Bill Cessato