Early each morning since March 24, Megan Johnson, M.S.N., R.N., OCN, sneaks to a secure location on campus to begin the thawing process for the COVID-19 vaccine that is planned to be used that afternoon. The meticulous schedule of thawing at certain temperatures for only so long, as well as the precise mixing of the vaccine with saline once it is thawed, and lastly the arduous task of getting rid of testy air bubbles from within the vaccine syringes is just another day in the office now for the DMU Family Medicine Clinic team. As the practice manager for the clinic, Megan has been advocating for her patients for some time now, anxiously wondering if this day would ever come.
DMU has been working in partnership with the Polk County Health Department, the State of Iowa and our federal elected officials to be a vaccination site. During DMU’s spring break the week of March 15, the news arrived: the DMU Family Medicine Clinic would begin to receive its own allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine beginning the following week.
“Receiving the email that confirmed our shipment of vaccines was so relieving and humbling,” Megan says. “This is what we have been waiting for – the chance to truly take care of our patients. To be able to protect those we have sworn to care for by getting this vaccine into their arms produces an excitement that is indescribable.”
Almost immediately the phones were buzzing and Zoom meetings clicking on as departments all across campus started to work out the numerous logistical and operational details.
Thanks to the speedy collaboration of facilities, information technology services, external affairs, marketing and accounting, the DMU Vaccine Clinic was born. A plan was in place and students, faculty and employees all signed up to volunteer alongside the family medicine and radiology staff members.
“I feel so proud of the amazing coworkers I have at DMU,” Megan says. “People across campus had no hesitation in clearing their schedules and prioritizing the efforts of getting shots in arms.”
Wednesday, March 24, quickly arrived, and patients with vaccine appointments began to roll in. The clinic is set up entirely outside as a drive-through operation in a faculty parking ramp (although those coming on foot with appointments are still easily accommodated). Patients were greeted, their appointments were verified and then smoothly inoculated and sent on their way.
Ben Peters, a second-year osteopathic medical student, volunteered two of the three days this opening week. “As students, we often find ourselves lost in the theoretical aspects of medicine,” he says. “The times when we get to help impact real patients in our community are treasured opportunities which break up the monotony. Volunteering at DMU’s own vaccine clinic helped me develop an even deeper sense of the vigor of the DMU community in which I am proud to play my part.”
Employee volunteers are also a vital piece of making all of this happen as a minimum of eight non-medical volunteers are needed per shift to run the clinic. With supervisor approval, employees can use their Community Service Leave for this opportunity.
Kimberly Patterson, M.S.N., R.N., CHSE, director of DMU’s Simulation Center, was one of the first volunteers to sign up. “Every patient of our COVID-19 vaccine clinic has been a wonderful mix of joy, appreciation and nerves,” she says. “Understandably, many feel nervous about needles. But this vaccine is unique in that it is historic, and I think we all feel the emotional impact of that. As an employee, I’m honored to be a volunteer at the clinic. Using community service leave and the easy walk over to the vaccine clinic are definite bonuses, but the truth is that I would do this volunteer work regardless. Like health care work and like education, it is a calling to serve.”