Phoenix VA, GWCC partner to tackle COVID-19 - Phoenix VA Health Care System
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Phoenix VA Health Care System


Phoenix VA, GWCC partner to tackle COVID-19

Photo from Phoenix VA Health Care System

Photo from Phoenix VA Health Care System

By Cindy Dorfner
Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A unique partnership between the Phoenix VA Health Care System and Gateway Community College (GWCC) is paying dividends for Veterans, nursing students at GWCC, and the staff at the local VA.

In late January, staff at the Phoenix VA implemented a program where students in GWCC’s Licensed Practical Nursing program would complete hands-on clinical hours in the VA’s COVID vaccination clinic. Three days a week, student practical nurses trained side by side with the Phoenix VA nurses to support the roll out of the Pfizer Vaccine to the Veteran population. The students, in groups of five, spend seven full days in clinic seeing between 30-40 Veterans a day for their COVID immunization.

VA Nursing Clinical Coordinator Michael Esteves said this clinical time is invaluable for the students, who, because of COVID haven’t been able to complete hands-on training, but instead have been learning in labs.

On Thursday, Feb. 25, leaders from Maricopa Community Colleges, including Director of Nursing Margi Schultz, visited the VA’s COVID Vaccine Clinic to get a feel for what students experience daily at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

“In addition to the vaccination clinic for our LPN students, the RN students have had the opportunity to work in the hospital, providing basic care and interacting with patients as part of their clinical rotation,” said Schultz. “Both the clinic and the hospital experiences have been an incredible opportunity for the students to help in our community and to gain valuable skills – the partnership has been a real win-win for everyone and GWCC is very grateful for the opportunities afforded the students.”

VA Nurse Manager Dianna Dybal said the students have been wonderful, jumping in wherever they’re needed.

“They’ve learned the flow of the whole clinic,” Dybal said. “They’ve administered immunizations, but they’ve also worked the check-in desks and acted as runners. This opportunity has been so valuable for them. Each student will take a critical skill mastered at the clinic with them and use it for the rest of their careers.

“As far as patient care, seeing this many patients a day is where they build skills,” Dybal said. “They’re growing confidence in communicating with patients, asking them health questions and administering the vaccine. This type of experience you cannot receive in a simulation lab.”

Esteves said all the students have been wonderful, but one group of five students has stood out. This group’s final day with the Phoenix VA happened Thursday.

“All of the students have been wonderful, but one group of five students has stood out as stellar, very quickly and easily immersing themselves into the clinic flow,” Esteves said. “Between January 25 and February 23, Gateway Community College LPN students have assisted in various ways, with the administration of more than 18,700 COVID vaccinations.”

The students said they felt like a part of the permanent VA staff.

“This has really been a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said student Bryan Hopkins, who offered a “big thank you and a virtual hug.” He said he and his fellow students were “so grateful for the opportunity and experiences during our clinical rotation.”

Student involvement has been so successful that Esteves will be placing two additional LPN groups in the Southeast Clinic to aid in distributing even more COVID vaccines to our Veterans.  

Dybal said it’s a wonderful opportunity for these future nurses to be part of responding to the pandemic. The VA staff in the vaccine clinic have enjoyed being a part of the learning experience with our next generation of nurses as well.

“We’ve definitely relied on each and every student in the vaccine clinic” she said. “The student nurses built confidence in each role they were assigned to in the clinic.”

Hopkins said he’s enjoyed hearing the stories from the Veterans, many of whom they saw for both their first and second doses.

“A lot of these Veterans want the vaccine so that they can continue their annual reunions with those whom they served,” he said. “This experience has been so humbling, but (we’re honored) at the same time to serve this population.

Esteves said the partnership has served as a great recruitment tool to help fill current VA vacancies.

“I absolutely share opportunities with students to consider as they graduate their programs – if we can bring them on board, we’re happy to do so.”



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