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When the demand for vaccine distribution was at an all-time high, UW Oshkosh College of Nursing students rose to the challenge and helped administer more than 4,200 COVID-19 shots to the community—thanks to a grant from Wisconsin Partnership Program.

UW Oshkosh CON used the $40,000 WPP grant to develop a vaccination program that put the skills of volunteer student nurses to work, assisting community health partners with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Vaccine administration across the state has required tremendous coordination and collaboration,” said Richard Moss of Fond du Lac, who graduated from UWO in 1969 with a degree in biology and is chair of the WPP Partnership Education and Research Committee. “This partnership between nursing schools through the UW System, including UW Oshkosh, has played a crucial role in addressing the urgent need to provide vaccinations for Wisconsin communities.”

CON used the grant between March 2 and June 30, 2021—mobilizing 198 nursing students to volunteer at COVID-19 vaccination sites to administer vaccines, screen and educate patients and monitor after injection. The grant funded personal protective equipment (PPE) for the students, coordinators’ wages, travel time, meetings and a lot of behind-the-scenes work to set the program in motion.

Eight organizations around the community were supported by the efforts, including Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago public health departments; area school districts; the UWO Student Health Center; and the community vaccination site at the Culver Family Welcome Center on the Oshkosh campus of UWO.

Maggie Docherty, CON instructor and WPP COVID-19 grant coordinator, said the WPP grant project allowed students to receive invaluable hands-on experience within a real-world setting.

“CON student volunteers got some real-time intramuscular injection practice,” Docherty said. “They also learned a great deal about the different types of vaccines that are available for COVID-19, as well as pertinent education to provide to our community members. This helps ensure more people are being vaccinated and informed in our community.”

A community vaccination site was opened in February on the Oshkosh campus.

Docherty called it a “truly remarkable time” for nursing students to help lead the way in keeping communities healthy. CON instructors were impressed by students’ willingness to step up and help in the vaccination effort.

Through a program offered by UW System, student volunteers were able to receive a $500 tuition credit in each of the spring and summer semesters for volunteering at least 16 hours, or two shifts, within a vaccine clinic. It was announced in September that
the program funded by the state Department of Health Services, will be available for the fall 2021 semester.

Clinical Nurse Leader program coordinator and WPP COVID-19 grant coordinator Kristi Foshag ’09, ’18, said providing a tuition credit was a great way to get more students to volunteer.

“The tuition grant was offered as an incentive for students and to allow for a greater pool of vaccinators to vaccinate individuals within our communities. The community needed help with vaccinating and the nursing students were eager to do so,” Foshag said.

Abri Hegle, a senior nursing major from Janesville, heard about the volunteer opportunity from a classmate and was immediately interested in participating. She considered it an extremely rewarding experience.

UWO nursing student Brianna Bruseth, of Brookfield, prepares and administers a COVID-19 vaccine at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Appleton in May.

“Getting hands-on experience at a vaccination clinic was so useful. I was able to perfect the skill of giving an intramuscular injection that I will use for the rest of my career as a nurse,” Hegle said. “Not only was it fun and educational, it was also well-organized, and everything flowed so nicely.

Every single person that I was able to vaccinate was so appreciative, and it was exciting to be a part of something like this.”

Fellow senior nursing major Katie Quackenboss of Fond du Lac, who also volunteered her time giving vaccinations, is proud to say that she served her community during a worldwide pandemic.

“Volunteering allowed me to practice my skills and play an important role in helping communities stay healthy,” Quackenboss said. “It was a really rewarding experience and I can now look back and say I helped during the pandemic.”

UW System President Tommy Thompson credited students at UW schools, including UW Oshkosh, with stepping up to help and gaining valuable experience during some of the “darkest days of the pandemic.”

UWO students from left: Coral Jerez-Makely, Natalie Schatz, Emily Roland, Abigayle Miller, Narathip Ketthab and Katelyn Kueffer

Helping Neighbors

Students weren’t the only ones who benefited from the COVID-19 vaccine volunteer program. Foshag said community members also benefited from the influx of student nurses providing vaccines.

“With a greater pool of vaccinators, community clinics were able to deploy vaccination efforts more rapidly and get more people vaccinated as soon as the vaccine became available,” she said. “Many were eagerly awaiting their COVID-19 vaccine and with the support of the nursing students we were able to get the vaccines to those who were eager to receive it.”

Foshag considers the program a great success and believes being a part of the vaccination effort in Wisconsin was a special experience
for all involved.

“It was a very humbling and rewarding experience for me to work alongside our nursing students and directly support the recovery efforts of our community,” she said. “I know that decades from now I will proudly tell my children and grandchildren about this experience and how we pulled together to administer vaccines and to get through this pandemic.”