Students in the osteopathic medicine, pharmacy and physician assistant studies programs are trained to deliver inoculations, giving them the skills to volunteer at vaccination sites.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine students, faculty and staff are known for their volunteering efforts. During this past year, PCOM community members have contributed their time and talent to help during the COVID-19 pandemic – from raising funds, to rounding up supplies for frontline workers, to delivering groceries, to assisting with testing and inoculation efforts.
A number of PCOM Georgia students have also helped with vaccination efforts as some worked in the health professions prior to pursuing a degree at PCOM. The college counts former nurses, EMTs, paramedics, and military medics as part of the student body.
To date, about 45 students, faculty and staff members have signed up to help with inoculations and a wide variety of tasks as part of the Medical Reserve Corps that assists the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments.
Other sites have benefited as well. Diana Tran (PharmD ’21) recalled finishing her neurocritical care rotation at Emory University Hospital and then volunteering to help prepare COVID-19 vaccines early the next morning. “I knew they were short staffed and they really needed help, and I also wanted to do something to help impact my community,” she said.
Shawn Spencer, PhD, RPh, dean of the PCOM School of Pharmacy, said, “PCOM pharmacy students are all state-licensed interns and trained in administering vaccinations as part of their Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Our final year students are heavily involved on the front-lines whether in primary care clinics or community pharmacies, providing a much needed resource in the mixing and administering of vaccines throughout Georgia.”
Physician Assistant students are trained to administer vaccinations during the winter term of the first year in their 26-month program. Rebekah Thomas, PharmD, PA-C, BCPS, BC-ADM, the assistant program director of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, said, ”The students were especially excited and attentive to learn how to administer intramuscular, subcutaneous and intradermal injections. They understand the necessity and view this as a way to immediately use their skills for the betterment of the community.”
According to PCOM President Jay S. Feldstein, DO ’81, national efforts to assist in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, such as Students Assist America organized by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, have positioned health professions students to participate in a civilian effort not seen in generations.
He said, “We are at a crucial moment in this crisis where nothing is more important than getting as many people vaccinated as possible. The students of PCOM and other area health professional schools can and should, under direct medical supervision, play a critical role in scaling up our inoculation efforts to provide a vaccine to all who want one.”
According to Georgia code, medical students have the authority to vaccinate. Typically, at PCOM, medical students are trained to vaccinate through an advanced clinical skills course taught just prior to clinical rotations during the students’ third and fourth years.
However, due to COVID-19, a permanent curriculum change in the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program has recently taken place on all three campuses. At the urging of Dr. Feldstein, first and second year DO students are receiving training in giving inoculations as part of their primary skills course. Harry Morris, DO, MPH, Ali Moradi, MD, MPH, DrPh, and George Fredrick, MD, direct the osteopathic medicine primary care skills courses in Philadelphia, Suwanee and Moultrie, respectively, and have worked together to align their curriculums to include early injection training.
According to Dr. Morris, “The students are clamoring to help and Dr. Feldstein is in agreement. Why can’t we get our students trained so that they’re able to volunteer in their off hours to get the job done?”
He added, “I don’t think there’s anything more valuable than helping our citizens receive the vaccine. Training our students to help makes a big difference.”
The course directors are using materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Immunization Action Coalition to train students in administering injections.
Dr. Moradi said, “We’re teaching them vaccination skills in case they’re needed to go into the community – to hospitals and public health sites. At a time when we have a shortage of healthcare providers due to the pandemic, our students will be trained to step in and help take part of the responsibility.”
Included in the course work are topics such as vaccinating various age groups, side effects, contraindications, and vaccinations during pregnancy.
This winter, Emma Little, MPH (DO ‘23) has volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps as a runner, and last spring she helped man the Georgia Department of Public Health COVID-19 hotline. Having worked in public health in the past, Little, the current DO Council vice president and Global Health Initiative president, looks forward to volunteering as a vaccinator once she receives training.
Dr. Feldstein said, “Health professions students are uniquely positioned in this moment to contribute to the nationwide vaccination effort while simultaneously gaining the hands-on experience they will bring as medical providers in their communities.”
“As a physician, I am incredibly proud of the progress my colleagues on the frontlines have made and continue to make. As a person, I am humbled by the humanity and grace they have shown under the strain of this tremendous pressure. With the support of the budding medical professionals trained at PCOM and other area health professional schools, I am confident that, together, we will see our way through this.”
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu/georgia or call 678-225-7500.
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