You see a vaccine clinic. We see a learning opportunity.

Students from seven different clinics share their experiences

We can take comfort in examining just how linked in UVic is with this region’s longstanding, long-armed community of health services, supports and partnerships. Across our campus community, staff and faculty are collaborating with many, different authorities and policy-makers on the smartest strategies for a safe return to campus during this historic pandemic.

UVic has worked with Island Health, the Canadian Red Cross Canada and the Student Affairs team to provide extensive vaccine clinic services while also enabling dynamic, hands-on learning experiences for students enrolled in UVic’s various professional health programs.

“It was such a pleasure having students working along side us at these clinics,” says Island Health pandemic planning manager, Jon Edman, RN. “Communication skills are a big part of nursing and so the way students handled the mixed emotions of clients was amazing. This experience will serve them well in their future career as Registered Nurses.”

“We have been so very glad to support fourth-year nursing students in their educational journey,” says Deborah Lester, director of Health in Emergencies with the Canadian Red Cross. “They are the future generation of our health workforce and we are hoping their experience with us will provide additional learnings to enhance future practice. It has been a pleasure working with the students as they have inspired our teams with their dedication.”

“UVic has sustained an inclusive, supportive culture over the years,” said Jim Dunsdon, associate VP of Student Affairs, in a recent report to UVic’s management team. “These days, it’s even more evident. Students, as well as faculty and staff, have really made an effort to help wherever they saw the need.”

As evidence, here are seven stories from students, alumnae, faculty and staff who share their experiences from working at seven different clinic models on campus and off. All have helped our island citizens while learning vital lessons along the way, gaining skills and understanding on what it takes to truly be good in a crisis.


1. On-campus clinics

High marks for readiness

When Chelsea Wozniak*, a registered nurse with UVic’s Student Wellness Centre, learned Island Health wanted to set up a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on campus, she and her team knew exactly what to do.

That’s because this team has led UVic’s annual flu immunization program* since 2014. Their on-call list of nursing alum and BSN students willing to help with vaccine clinic work is extensive and all-ages. In those seven years of flu clinic management, Wozniak and team have reinforced relations with their key partners, working under the auspices of UVic Student Affairs to further help staff clinics on campus and further afield.

“Our goal is pretty straight-forward,” Wozniak says. “We want to immunize as many people as possible.”

To prepare, BSN students are invited to participate in a special education session where they are supervised on skills to support those who may be needle-phobic, likely to faint or experience anaphylaxis shock, as well as practice the correct technique for delivering injections that are as pain-free as possible. Students also practice techniques on informing and reassuring their clients. Second year students with the UBC Island Medical Program, keen to gain clinic experience, are also invited to these sessions.

“Calming the anxious is essential,” says Wendy Neander, UVic Nursing clinic coordinator and teaching professor. “We teach nurses this practice even if the client seems prepared and even if the student is competent. You never really know how anxious a client might be. That’s why these clinics offer a fantastic learning opportunity for students.”

 *Chelsea is no longer with the centre. We are sorry to see her go and wish her well.


2. Pop-up clinics

When new strategies work very well

Annie Lucas, a registered nurse with the Student Wellness Centre, worked closely with Island Health in organizing a creative COVID-19 campaign to vaccinate as many unvaccinated students as possible within the first three weeks of the 2021 fall term.

“We didn’t know what to expect so we just followed the criteria we use when planning a flu clinic,” says Annie. The strategy remained student-centred, safe, inclusive and equitable (code for ‘no judgment’.) “We offered a warm welcome for students wanting to get vaccinated,” says Annie. Informal pop-ups worked well in bringing the vax to the student vs. the other way round.

Turns out students were happy to be vaccinated – at the Biblio Cafe, at Thunderfest or while catching some rays by the fountain on the Quad. While the majority of UVic students were already vaccinated, more than 300 doses were administered within that three-week campaign proving easy access as the key, Annie insists.

“We had to be nimble. We’ve learned things can change at the speed of light. We’ve become much more change-resilient as a result of this extraordinary time. And we really enjoyed working with the Public Health unit at Island Health. Ours was a successful collaborative effort.”


3. Drive-through clinics

Innovation increases access, heightens student learning

Megan Fraser, a fourth-year BSN student, started a three-month nursing practicum in Duncan with the Cowichan Tribes’ Ts’ewulhtun Health Centre on January 12, 2021, and started work the next day at their first-ever drive-through vaccination clinic. Born and raised within the Cowichan Valley, she felt at home and highly engaged in this historic learning opportunity.

“The people and staff were warm and welcoming,” she says of BC’s largest First Nation community. “We were sorting out logistical pieces, purchasing supplies, organizing equipment, securing sandbags so our tents wouldn’t blow away,” she laughs.

Cowichan Tribes installed and equipped 10 such shelters to serve as vaccine injection sites set up along their main road that runs in a circle through the community.

Hundreds of people came through on each of the three clinic days, arriving by car, bus or on foot. “It was a very quick way to jump into a real nursing experience,” says Fraser, “with both feet.”


4. Indigenous community clinics

A glimpse at something rare and ideal

“Oh, there is so much emotion in these vaccine clinics,” says nursing student Emma Alvernaz, tearing up and laughing at the same time. “A part of me just wants to get this work done, you know, to finish this degree and address the feelings afterwards.”

It’s evident she’s tired. No surprise given her many commitments.

Emma has worked extensively throughout her BSN studies -- as a casual unit clerk with the Royal Jubilee and Vic General hospitals, as a private caregiver and as a devoted keeper of three dogs. She describes herself as being privileged to work and study while living at home with her mom.

Given that the practicum is a course requirement, she chose to work at several clinics to gain the most experience. From Stz’uminus and Cowichan to the health centres at Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations, she would put in most of her time at the Victoria Conference Centre mass clinic.

Yet, at the end of it all, it was her experiences at the Indigenous community clinics that stayed with her.

“I’m attracted to care environments outside of the hospital,” she says, noting her hope to become a Nurse Practitioner one day. “I like the idea of seeing patients within their homes and communities, seeing how people live and connect with one another.”

“The Indigenous people I met all knew who their care providers were,” she marvels. “They have their own Indigenous home support workers who deliver care directly.” Her time at these clinics, she says, were some of the happiest, most fulfilling days of her practicum.

Given her busy life (did I mention the boyfriend of six years?), Emma experienced something during her practicum that sparked a new career possibility and a noticeable level of joy. “Yeah,” she says, “working at an Indigenous health centre is definitely an area I’m considering after graduation next June.”      


5. Community clinics

Community can teach skills that are tough to teach in class

Tianna Smids-Dyk, a 21-year-old student born and raised within walking distance to campus, is now in her third year of a BSc degree with the School of Health Information Science. She worked for the Red Cross at Island Health’s Lake Cowichan clinic, held at the local community centre, gathering and inputting client information into the Island Health data management system.

“It was a really valuable experience having patient contact,” she says. “Definitely a story I’ll take with me further down the road.”

As the clinic’s first point of contact, Tianna was surprised to see how many people were feeling afraid. She saw co-workers help these folks relax and learned to do what they did. “I was friendly and took time to sit with people and listen.”

“It was heart-breaking to see older people who had been living in isolation for months,” she says. “So many seniors were really timid, you know, shaking and nervous. For some, we were the first people they had interacted with in a long time. That experience opened my eyes.”

“Some people had a negative attitude or acted in a surprising way. But we had great supervisors there for support.” Some people with positive energy were giddy about being vaccinated. “There was a wide array of people and a lot of emotion everyday. I’ll never forget it.”

“I saw how I could have an impact on people needing help. I realized I don’t have much experience in care delivery; just working there for a few weeks helped me see every moving part.” Tianna is now working on a four-month telehealth project with Interior Health in Kelowna. 


6. Long-term care clinics

Faculty help students apply learning within their work world

Victoria Pickles is completing her master’s degree in nursing while working with Broadmead Care, a non-profit long term care organization. For her final practicum, she developed a plan for third- and fourth-year undergraduate student involvement in BC’s vaccination program and COVID-19 response for the elderly.

“The experience just morphed into a best practice lesson on how to incorporate students within a mass project,” she explains, clear on the historic learning opportunity at hand. “This presented me with a great opportunity to develop my learning as an Advanced Practice Lead and Nurse Educator.”

She has long wanted to get a better idea of how provincial programs like this actually work.

Supported by faculty members Wendy Neander, lead COVID–19 practice coordinator for the school, and Anne Bruce, nursing professor and Victoria’s graduate supervisor, they would meet with Island Health staff to review BC Centre for Disease Control clinic guidelines with a view to integrating nursing competencies into student experiences.

“Wendy worked closely with Victoria to develop an experiential learning plan tailored to her specific learning needs based on competencies she must meet within our master’s leadership program, as well as the needs of our working group with Island Health,” Anne explains.

“I believe it’s important for students to participate in these vaccination clinics” says Victoria. “They give us an opportunity to expand our knowledge in a highly fluid situation while working with the general public. This is first hand experience in population health.”


7. Mass public clinics

A new attitude can be a good thing

Dennis Hang, a fourth-year Health Information Science undergrad, was skeptical about taking on a frontline service role at a vaccine clinic. While he needed the experience as part of his degree program, he describes himself as someone who would be more comfortable “being less visible.”

He worked for five months as an Emergency Care Worker (ECW) with the Canadian Red Cross who were retained by BC health authorities to provide non-clinical support for an accelerated province-wide immunization strategy.

Dennis provided digital support for daily operations at the Victoria Conference Centre’s public vaccination site. In addition to screening and data entry of client information, he reinforced health and safety protocols and cared for individuals after their vaccination.

Dennis also experienced firsthand “turmoil and frustration for clients denied a vaccination.” Difficult conversations occurred at times when someone didn’t meet criteria and was not approved for a vaccine by a lead nurse. He saw how management resolved these matters and enhanced client compliance. “Sometimes, I helped other ECW’s who were uncomfortable having these talks.”

For the most part, he says, the registration process was quick and relatively seamless considering about 2,000 people came through the clinic every day.

Dennis would visit colleagues and cover for them during breaks. A manager saw he was a fast learner who managed clients effectively and asked Dennis to help other workers with computer issues. “At the time, I didn’t know the full extent of what he was asking me to do,” Dennis admits, “but I still said yes. This was a pretty exciting opportunity.”

He went on to become one of two team leads, taking on more responsibilities like troubleshooting system glitches and supporting team members and nurses. Noting improvements in his own communications, teamwork and leadership, Dennis says he will never forget this co-op experience.

“My attitude changed. Within days, I couldn’t wait to start my shift. I really liked working with the public. There were times when the simplest task could make a difference in someone’s day. I opened up, became more helpful and learned how these basic social skills can lead to greater opportunities.”