Nursing studies

Volunteer vaccinators: a nursing role that’s about much more than just a jab in the arm

Nursing students explain why vaccine hubs are proving to be rich learning environments

Two nursing students explain why vaccine hubs are a rich learning environment and how their voluntary roles enable them to develop interpersonal as well as clinical skills

Volunteering to become coronavirus vaccinators has helped two Salford University nursing students gain a wealth of skills they believe will help them in their future careers.

Its been a very difficult year, says second-year adult nursing student Kelly Burton, whose daughter Nicole, a newly registered nurse, contracted COVID-19 in April 2020. Its good to have a positive end to it and this is such a great job to do. Every person who comes through has a different story to tell. Ive had to stop myself crying many times.

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Two nursing students explain why vaccine hubs are a rich learning environment and how their voluntary roles enable them to develop interpersonal as well as clinical skills

Receiving the vaccine is life-changing for every individual Picture: Alamy

Volunteering to become coronavirus vaccinators has helped two Salford University nursing students gain a wealth of skills they believe will help them in their future careers.

‘It’s been a very difficult year,’ says second-year adult nursing student Kelly Burton, whose daughter Nicole, a newly registered nurse, contracted COVID-19 in April 2020. ‘It’s good to have a positive end to it and this is such a great job to do. Every person who comes through has a different story to tell. I’ve had to stop myself crying many times.

‘Just in the five minutes you’re with them, you hear so many sad things. Having the vaccination is life-changing for them.’

Supporting patients with COVID-19 at the end of life

Ms Burton opted to work through the pandemic at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, first in the emergency department and then on COVID-19 wards. In November last year, she started working as a ‘cygnet’, supporting patients with COVID-19 in the last hours and days of life, many of whom weren’t able to be with their loved ones.

‘I can see the hope and relief in people as they have their jabs. I feel lucky to have been able to see the full cycle and it feels really nice to be a part of history’

Kelly Burton, nursing student and volunteer vaccinator

The role was developed as part of the hospital’s Swan model of end of life and bereavement care, with cygnets signifying team members who are working outside their usual area of expertise.

‘Despite the risk, you know you are absolutely in the right place,’ says Ms Burton. ‘Doing your best so that the person at the end of life is not on their own, and that you have treated them like a family member.’

Vaccinator role feels like being part of history

Having worked on COVID wards and supported the families of those who were dying with the virus, Ms Burton feels as though becoming a vaccinator is the ‘final step’ of her journey.

‘I can see the hope and relief in people as they pass through to have their jabs. I feel lucky to have been able to see the full cycle and it feels really nice to be a part of history,’ she says.

‘Even though it’s just a jab in the arm, treating every single person as an individual is so important’

Kelly Burton

Nursing student Kelly Burton gives
her nurse daughter Nicole's second
coronavirus vaccine

As a vaccinator at the Salford Royal staff hub, Ms Burton was able to administer the vaccine to daughter Nicole. ‘The first time she came in I was cleaning trays, and it was very tough to watch someone else vaccinate her,’ says Ms Burton.

‘But the second time, I happened to be on shift, and she chose me. It was an amazing end to our own family chapter.’

Developing interpersonal skills as well as clinical competence

To be able to carry out her role, Ms Burton undertook online vaccination training, which took a full day. As a student, she had already had practical in-house training. ‘I did lots of my own research too because I was so scared of getting it wrong, hurting someone or injecting into the wrong place,’ she says.

For the first ten injections, she was supervised by a nurse. ‘Everyone is so caring. It doesn’t matter how scared someone is, they get full attention. There’s no rush,’ says Ms Burton. ‘The best thing is when they say “I didn’t feel that at all”. I’ve been learning lots of distraction techniques.’

Among the lasting benefits is gaining a range of interpersonal skills, she believes. ‘Even though it’s just a jab in the arm, treating every single person as an individual is so important,’ says Ms Burton.

‘For some, needles are a very real fear. It’s been good to have that time with someone, one-to-one, to make their experience as good as possible. I hope every patient will have that same experience from me.’

‘Learning how to calm people and put them at ease has been good, as a lot are nervous about having the vaccine’

Laura Williams, nursing student and volunteer vaccinator

Learning from experienced peers is another positive. ‘A lot of retired nurses have returned to practice just to vaccinate. It’s wonderful to listen to them about how nursing used to be, you can’t teach those experiences,’ she says.

‘I’ve been gathering information from everyone so I can learn from them, observing how they deal with people. The overall feeling is one of compassion.’

Volunteering has opened up new learning opportunities

Laura Williams

Fellow second-year adult nursing student Laura Williams volunteered to become a vaccinator by approaching her local GP surgery. ‘I felt I wanted to play my part and help out,’ she says.

‘As I didn’t want to be paid, but wanted to volunteer to gain experience, I found it hard to get taken on by the NHS banking system. In the end I spoke to my local practice and they were more than happy to help.’

A nurse practitioner trained her to be able to administer the vaccine in practice, including in the regulations and protocols, alongside the relevant online courses. ‘She was a fantastic mentor,’ says Ms Williams. ‘She said I can go back and watch her work in different clinics too, such as diabetes, so it’s opened up a huge area for me. I might not have had these opportunities had I not volunteered.’

Taking part has also helped boost her confidence. ‘It really set me up for my next placement in the community,’ says Ms Williams. ‘You need multi-skills working as a vaccinator. Even learning how to calm people and put them at ease has been good, as a lot are nervous about having the vaccine.

‘We were trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible of course, but it was also nice to have the personal aspect too, with the nurses and patients often knowing each other. It’s been an invaluable experience.’


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