Second-year medical students aren’t usually called upon to give vaccines, so when Tony Li got the chance to administer the COVID-19 shot at a clinic in Kingston, Ont., he leapt at the chance.
And so did his classmates.
“It’s a super-exciting opportunity,” Li says, “to get out there, help patients and the community.”
Since January, more than 200 students at Queen’s University medical school — have been helping to administer the vaccine at a clinic at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. So far, the school says, students have given about 10,000 doses to the region’s high-risk health-care workers. In late February, after demand for the vaccine picked up, a doctor at the clinic reached out to the medical school asking for the help of first- and second-year students, according to Li.
“We’re fast learners,” Li says. “And it was such an exciting opportunity.”
Jane Philpott, dean of the faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s, says students at the medical school have been helping out the community since the start of the pandemic, helping to fundraise, deliver groceries to those in need and create personal protective equipment with 3D printers. And this is just another way they’re contributing.
“They really sensed this is a time to step up and help one another,” she says. “They’re doing something really positive and they are making a difference.”
Student participation in the fight against COVID appears to be a growing trend across the province.
Early Monday, Masks4Canada, a non-profit aimed at helping stop the spread of the virus, put out a call on Twitter for high school students interested in getting their mandatory volunteer hours by helping sign up senior citizens for vaccine appointments. Last week, Toronto Mayor drew attention to more than 30,000 unfilled spots in the city and Masks4Canada brainstormed about how it could help.
Kashif Pirzada, a Toronto emergency room doctor and member of the small non-profit that has helped push the mandate for mask-wearing across the country, says the group thought students might be able to help seniors use the city’s online sign-up system. It’s “very, very difficult to navigate,” he says, adding the group wondered if that is why more seniors didn’t sign up to get a shot. “We thought we could train students to help them do it.”
By mid-morning on Monday, Pirzada says, they had already recruited more than 40 volunteers.
Likewise, Li says, there was immediate interest to help out among his classmates when they found out about the opportunity to administer local COVID-19 vaccines.
Li, president of the Aesculapian Society, Queen’s University’s medical students’ society, says his colleagues signed up immediately after he put a blurb on Facebook just after a doctor at the clinic reached out to him by email, asking if he was interested and if he could help spread the word.
Typically, students are trained to deliver vaccines in their third and fourth year, Li says, and physicians and nurses at the clinic, helped get them up to speed.
Students have been working in six-hours shifts, Li says, helping out with logistics as well as delivering the vaccines. In any given shift, a student may administer 50 or 60 vaccinations, he says. And they’re looking forward to being involved and helping out at other local clinics as the opportunity presents.
Li says students have even been missing classes in order to fulfil their volunteer responsibilities. Luckily, Li says, the medical school has been “supportive” and if students miss class, they can find recordings of lectures online.
“Our school has been amazing with flexibility.”