As people across the country eagerly awaited their turn to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a group of Brock University students stepped up, using their skills to make a difference.
Normally, students in Brock’s Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement Program (I-EQUIP) complete one- or two-year projects that assist local health-related organizations. However, while meeting virtually at the beginning of Winter Term, Associate Professor of Health Sciences Madelyn Law let students know there would be a chance to help in an additional and unexpected way.
“Most of the students were nearing completion on their major projects and we received word that Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) could use some assistance in designing the layout of its vaccination sites throughout the region,” Law said. “When I asked my students if they would like to change up some of the assignments in favour of helping NRPH, everyone was on board right away.”
Students were given the choice to go on a virtual or in-person tour of the venue they would be responsible for and were able to ask questions of other stakeholders, including representatives from NRPH and the fire department in their venue’s municipality.
The opportunity to have a say on the site design was particularly exciting for fourth-year Child Health and Med Plus student Marissa Raso, who helped with the layout of the clinic in her hometown of Welland.
“We worked on a site plan using a building blueprint and figured out how the clinic could be set up,” she said. “There were so many things to consider, including electrical outlet locations and room temperatures. When our draft was done, it was sent to NRPH for review. We then created a clinic managers’ manual, including specifics for each clinic and a frequently asked questions document.”
It was not long before the blueprint Raso and her partner, Hannah Rongitis, drew up evolved into a fully functional clinic.
“I know lots of people who have been to the Welland clinic that we helped design,” she said. “It was so great to be helping people in my neighbourhood.”
Like Raso, fourth-year Medical Sciences and Med Plus student Lisa Faulkner was thankful for the opportunity the I-EQUIP project gave her to make a difference as she worked alongside fellow students Jaz Randhawa, who is also in her fourth year of Med Plus, and Damyen Henderson-Lee Wah to design the vaccination site at Brock University.
“I was really proud to be part this,” she said. “It was exciting to finally tell people that I helped design the vaccination site and that our suggestions were put in place. People are now going through the process in the order we set things out, and it’s working.”
In a statement, NRPH said partnering with Law and the I-EQUIP students was “invaluable” as the organization planned for COVID-19 vaccine distribution across Niagara.
“The students were responsible for much of the initial planning, clinic design work and flow monitoring for each of Niagara’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics,” the statement said. “The students’ involvement was a major part of why we were able to activate 11 different clinic locations online in such a short period of time.”
The organization also said the I-EQUIP team has continued to make a difference following the launch of the clinics.
“The students were true ambassadors for Brock University, demonstrating a high degree of knowledge and commitment throughout,” the statement said. “Many elected to volunteer in the clinics after their student placements ended, further demonstrating their desire to give back to the community.”
Like other students in the course, Faulkner and Raso also stayed involved.
With a wealth of experience in the design process under her belt, Faulkner was able to help in numerous roles at a vaccination site near her home in Mississauga.
“I basically do every job that is not vaccination, including registrations, checkout, bringing more vaccines, patient support, administration and more,” she said. “It’s been cool to put what I planned into practice.”
Faulkner said she is always trying to improve the experience for people who arrive to get vaccinated.
“I have been taking notes and noticing additional resources,” she said. “I know what different factors need to be considered, and see how each clinic wants to make adjustments to ensure everything is flowing.”
Raso also continued to offer her expertise when the term wrapped up and took a role as a screener with NRPH at their rotating clinics, which included two shifts in Welland.
“It was so cool to see the clinic operating in person, knowing I had made some of the decisions about how it was running,” she said. “Even when someone mentioned they had to wait for a few minutes outside, I started to figure out how to fix it. I was so proud to be part of it from the beginning.”
Law said the dedication I-EQUIP students have shown to helping their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of inspiration.
“My students seamlessly jumped at the opportunity to help with the planning and volunteering,” she said. “It was truly amazing to see how they were able to apply their knowledge of health equity, process, flow and quality improvement in health services at such an important time.”
As both students prepare for Convocation next week and then graduate studies in the fall, they reflected on the role they were able to play during an unprecedented time.
“We all want to find a way to help get life back to normal, and it was great to feel like we were part of the global solution to the pandemic,” Raso said.
For Faulkner, the most rewarding part of the experience has been interacting with the people she’s been able to help.
“Everyone who comes in is so grateful, patient and thankful,” she said. “We can begin to move forward, but I know I’ll look back fondly on the small role I was able to play in getting the world back to normal.”