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A Part of the Recovery: MBKU Students and Faculty Volunteer at COVID-19 Vaccination Sites


When Dr. Monica Trivedi, professor in the College of Pharmacy at MBKU, received the great news that she was eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, she booked her appointment right away at a site situated in a local fire station. On the day of her first shot, she arrived to discover a line of cars stretching for miles, wait times many hours long, and a beleaguered vaccination site that had overbooked that day’s appointments a few times over. In that moment, she immediately recognized two very large needs: one was for trained vaccinators who could meet the demand of the millions of adults who were eligible and yearned for their vaccinations, and the other was for a community health organization that could help alleviate the logistical challenge of administering so many doses.

Naturally, Dr. Trivedi realized that MBKU was primed to meet both needs, and she became one of many faculty and students who volunteered at vaccinations sites throughout Orange County. These volunteer opportunities have ranged from supporting massive drive-through events at Soka University to smaller events partnered with local public health organizations like Family Health Matters and Latino Health Access. After completing all of the CDC training modules, student volunteers were able to serve in multiple roles, screening and checking in individuals, mixing and supervising doses, and of course, administering the vaccines themselves.

Dr. Trivedi volunteered a few times on her own early on so that she could learn what to expect, and right away she saw how fulfilling the experience would be for all involved. “It was so rewarding to see the number of people who came through who were so thankful,” she says. “Early in February the people eligible were over 65, so we had caregivers and people bringing their parents – all so grateful and relieved for the opportunity to get vaccinated.”

The recipients weren’t the only grateful ones. When MBKU students began working events, many of them felt uniquely empowered after a year of remote learning to be with each other and with people they could deliver care to. “Our students were super eager to be a part of these events,” says PA Andrea Galdamez, professor in the School of PA Studies (SPAS). “They got to talk to patients and feel really connected to being a part of the recovery of this pandemic.”

Erika McCracken, a first-year PA student who helped build interest among students for the volunteer opportunities and who volunteered herself, echoes how important this connection was: “The most rewarding aspect was getting to step away from the computer screen and use my hands to help someone,” she says. “Volunteering to give vaccines was the first time I and my classmates were able to apply some of the skills and knowledge we’ve been receiving during our grueling—but exciting—education.”

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Health care workers from multiple disciplines coming together to serve their local population is the very picture of what MBKU strives for as an institution of interprofessional education. And Southern California College of Optometry was very much in that picture. At the onset of the vaccine rollout, optometrists were among those health care providers who received a special authorization to administer doses, and a number of faculty from SCCO joined the effort, including Dr. Mark Nakano and Dr. John Nishimoto. Estimating that by now he has probably given out around 5,000 injections, Dr. Nakano has been volunteering from the very beginning, eager to demonstrate how optometrists could be a part of the solution. “I have always been firm believe in servant-leadership, so I was ready to lead this charge, especially as an administrator and faculty member of this profession,” he says. For Dr. Nishimoto, the experience of providing vaccinations was almost surreal, but he would not pass up the opportunity to participate. “It was an amazing experience,” he says. “Not only am I expanding my skills as a health care provider, but I’m contributing to a hugely worthwhile cause.”

“Knowing our community is taking steps towards defeating this pandemic, and that MBKU was involved in creating those steps was so gratifying,” says Van Cathy Pham, a third-year pharmacy student who served as Lead Student Coordinator. “It was a wonderful experience working side by side with faculty, local leaders, and students from the PA program. I saw firsthand how much of a positive impact a health care worker can make on a stranger’s life.” Student and faculty volunteers did not take this impact for granted; it of course represents their goal to be health care leaders as well as their choice of MBKU to accomplish that. “One of the main reasons why I wanted to attend MBKU was their dedication to service in the community,” says Lauren Magdeleno, a first-year PA student. “I saw the complicated logistics that went on behind the scenes to help enable our students to volunteer and take action, which showed just how hard our students and faculty were willing to work to have greater impact on our community and help keep it safe by administering COVID vaccines.”

It fits the character of the University that, as the world continues towards the goal of recovering from the pandemic, MBKU would find ways to be on the frontlines, helping those who are traditionally underrepresented in health care – divisions made starker by COVID-19. “Our overall mission is to be of service, right here in our community, to those who need it most,” says Prof. Galdamez. “We haven’t had a pandemic like this for 100 years, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s affected us all in so many ways. And for me, my colleagues, and MBKU students, being able to channel that to good, to healing, is an experience we’ll never forget.”