Medical School Students Volunteer for Community Vaccinations

Medical students get Covid-19 vaccine.
Medical students get Covid-19 vaccine.

February 05, 2021
As the spread of COVID-19 continues in our region, health care workers are being vaccinated so that they can continue to care for patients. And a future generation of physicians studying at the UWSOM in Spokane are among those frontline workers receiving the vaccine so that they can help care for others.  

One way they are helping care for others is through student-led volunteering in vaccine clinics.

"This action by our students underscores what’s at the core of our Health Partnership -- to serve the greater good," says Darryl Potyk, associate dean for the UW School of Medicine and chief of medical education for the UWSOM, which partners with Gonzaga University to enhance and expand medical education in the region.   

Potyk is delighted to see medical students working alongside community health care workers to stem the spread of the pandemic.

"Our entire faculty are actively involved in clinical care, and are getting vaccinated," he says. "At this point in the pandemic, we're very hopeful about the vaccine because it is truly life-saving and is the single most important development that's happened in our fight against COVID-19."

When fourth-year medical student Brittany Bergam, a Spokane Valley native, arrived at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center to help administer the vaccine, she also received her immunization.

"It was relatively painless and without problems," she says. 

Bergam is part of the Indian Health Pathway, a unique educational experience addressing the health of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  These populations are among the most underserved in the country.  According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the COVID death rate for Native Americans in Washington state is twice the expected rate that is seen in other populations. 

Bergam works at the NATIVE Project, a Spokane clinic designed to focus on Native American health. Having received the vaccine, she's able to mitigate some of the vaccine hesitancy in the patients she sees.

"The clinic is working to get the vaccine out to the Native population in our region, starting with Native elders,” says Bergam.  "I'm able to share my perspective about getting and giving the vaccine," she says.

John McCarthy, MD, UWSOM assistant dean for rural programs, also works at the NATIVE Project as Chief Medical Officer.

“Sadly, we've lost some of the community’s elders to the COVID-19 virus," he says. “"Our clinic is reaching out to our Native patients to let them know that it's far more dangerous to contract the disease than to put up with minimal discomfort from the vaccine." 

McCarthy stresses that the vaccine is safe and vitally important because herd immunity is still a long way off.

While the advent of the vaccine is encouraging, Potyk emphasizes the importance of maintaining pandemic protocols.

"We encourage all who are eligible to receive the vaccine," says Potyk. "And, to move beyond the pandemic we also need to continue mask-wearing, social distancing and good hand hygiene even after getting vaccinated."

He expects that more medical school students will become involved with the community vaccination effort.  As Washington moves into the next phases of distribution, the plan calls for the state to administer 45,000 COVID vaccinations every day, and UWSOM medical students have reached out to the Spokane Health District to support the effort.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to be a part of the solution to this devastating pandemic," says Bergam.