When the city of Lawrence was in need of staff for its vaccine clinics, Northern Essex Community College answered the call.
Since March 11, 35 health care students have been volunteering at the site located at the Arlington Middle School. Nursing and Medical Assistant students are administering the vaccines and Medical Office Administration students are registering those getting the vaccines.
It all started with a phone call from Elicia Miller ’13, community coordinator of the Mayor’s Health Task Force in Lawrence, to Kathy Hudson, her former professor.
“They wanted to open another vaccine site and they needed help,” says Hudson.
At the time, Hudson was struggling to find externships for her medical assisting students because many of the sites were no longer available due to COVID restrictions.
The end result was a win-win. The city had staffing help for the vaccine sites and students were gaining valuable experience administering vaccines and working with patients and their health records.
Medical Assistant student Catherine Ripalda of Methuen was volunteering for the first time last week and she says it’s “a really good experience.” With each vaccine, she became “a little more comfortable” and she said she is proud to tell her son “I’m doing something for the community.”
Ripalda is bilingual as are most of the students in the college’s Medical Assistant Program, which is a plus giving vaccines in Lawrence, a city which is over 80% Hispanic.
“People are anxious,” says Hudson. “Sometimes speaking in their native language takes the edge off, makes them feel more comfortable.”
Before giving the vaccines, students are fielding questions about side effects, existing health conditions, and COVID-19, according to Hudson, all under the close supervision of NECC faculty, who are always on site.
Medical Assistant students are volunteering on Tuesday and Thursdays and Nursing students on Wednesdays, which will continue as long as vaccines are needed. When Lawrence General Hospital opens another regional site soon, the college’s Practical Nursing, Paramedic, and Evening Medical Assistant students have already committed to volunteer.
Brenda Sicard of Lawrence visited the clinic recently, and said it was her first trip out of her house since March of 2020. After receiving her vaccine from Jasmine Hong of Methuen, Sicard said “She was fabulous. I didn’t even feel it.”
A third of the students at Northern Essex are enrolled in one of the college’s 22 associate degree and certificate programs in high-demand health care fields, ranging from nursing to respiratory care to sleep technology. Most programs are located at the El-Hefni Allied Health & Technology Center on Common St in Lawrence. The 44,000 square foot facility features a Health Education Simulation Center, where health care students receive hands-on experience in simulated environments such as a hospital intensive care unit, a trauma room, an acute care hospital room, an apartment, an ambulance, and a doctor’s office.