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Nursing students take part in historic vaccination clinic
Stan State nursing students
Stanislaus State’s Maria Mendicino administers a vaccine to fellow student Blanca Gonzalez while Katherine Vandenbroeke observes and clinical faculty member Jessica Newsom-Wilkinson provides guidance (Photo contributed).

While the COVID-19 vaccination clinic held at Stanislaus State in recent weeks has provided life-changing immunization for local residents, the historic event has also allowed the university’s nursing students to participate in the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As a line of residents aged 65 and up snaked around the Fitzpatrick Arena on Jan. 21, a group of 12 nursing students were ready to help. The School of Nursing students provided much-needed support to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency during the all-day clinic, which saw more than 1,000 vaccinations administered in just seven hours. 

In addition to vaccinating those who attended the event, students were able to participate in other areas of the clinic such as intake and observation.

“This is historic and I think students really get it,” School of Nursing Director Mary Jo Stanley said. “...These people are scared and it really hit home with the students.”

Student Katherine Vanderbroeke was prepared for the rush of patients thanks to a trial run held on Jan. 18, where students and faculty were able to vaccinate each other. After vaccinating about 100 people herself just three days later, Vanderbroeke knew she had chosen the correct path in becoming a nurse. 

During the clinic, she was overcome with emotion as she vaccinated elderly patients who had not left their homes in almost a year.

“It’s an experience that can never be taken away from me,” Vanderbroeke said. “The feeling I got from the people who I was vaccinating...they were so grateful and so many of them had stories to share.”

Vanderbroeke’s own story is unique; she decided to enroll in the School of Nursing three semesters ago and is now halfway through the program, over two decades after a stint in the U.S. Army and a couple of government jobs. She decided to chase her dream of becoming a nurse after having her daughter, she said. While she entered the program with no medical experience whatsoever, the clinic was her third opportunity to vaccinate a person during nursing school. 

Though she’s had the chance to vaccinate young children in need of their Hepatitis B shot and mothers who are out of date with their MMR vaccine, the COVID vaccination clinic was the first time Vanderbroeke has vaccinated patients on a mass scale.

Out of the countless people she gave the historic shot to, however, one woman made a lasting impact.

“I get choked up every time I talk about her,” Vanderbroeke said through tears, recalling one patient who was serving as a caretaker to her immunocompromised husband. 

The patient hadn’t left her home since last February, Vanderbroeke explained, and her first time venturing outdoors since the pandemic first hit the United States was to go to Stanislaus State for her vaccination.

“They were buying all of their groceries online and hadn’t seen their family or friends in person,” she said. “She was scared and she was nervous to be out...she just broke down after she got that first shot. You could see the relief in her face and feel the relaxation in her body as she realized she was at the first steps to having a more normal life.

“There were so many stories like that, but she’s the one that stuck out to me the most.”

Stanley said that despite the long lines to the clinic, which saw the elderly line up outside of the arena as early as 4 a.m., spirits were high as the older generation anxiously awaits a return to normalcy. To provide that for community members and gain the valuable experience which comes along with it has been priceless for students, she added. 

“I think our students will be prepared and have the clinical experience they need. They’re going to see their training from a different lens,” Stanley said. “It helps them see the needs of the community and it helps them see their clients who we take care of as real people. Sometimes we get caught up in a diagnosis and a patient in a room, but this helps us see it from a global perspective. This is our community, these are our neighbors and this is how we can touch their lives.”

There are plans for students to take part in more COVID vaccine clinics as they are held at Stanislaus State, Stanley said, much to Vanderbroeke’s delight. She’s grateful for the chance to give peace back to those who are most at-risk during the pandemic and the experience has reconfirmed her desire to enter healthcare. 

“I feel like the whole journey that I've been through is part of what brought me back to this moment. I just feel like it’s an experience that brought me to this point and that I was meant to be here at this time,” Vanderbroeke said. “I am finding I have so much more in me than I realized and that in itself is so rewarding. Sometimes you get to the feeling where you think you’re tapped out, but the vaccination part of this has told me that I’m doing this for the right reasons and it’s something I’m meant to do.”