When pharmacy student Michelle Liang started her first work term at a Costco pharmacy in January 2020, she hadn’t been trained to administer vaccinations. Today, she has given over 1,000 influenza vaccine injections in the 2020 flu season.
Injections training usually occurs in the second year of pharmacy school, in the Professional Practice Lab. But COVID-19 snarled those plans, and while Michelle was able to complete her winter and fall terms on co-op at Costco, her spring 2020 courses were delivered online.
Pharmacy is a co-op mandatory program, and many work terms have pharmacist supervisors who are trained to give injections. To ensure Michelle’s cohort was able to provide vaccinations while working in the fall, the Professional Practice team knew they’d need help. They worked with the School’s experiential and administrative staff to recruit co-op supervisors to train students directly. Developing this alternative training process was a priority for the School, especially given the key role pharmacists and pharmacy students are preparing to play in COVID-19 vaccinations.
School staff assembled injection training supply kits and mailed them to students. Co-op employers received training materials, and students registered to complete their practical training at sites throughout the province while they were on co-op. Professor Allison Tario, who normally facilitates injection training in class, assisted co-op employers in preparing for training, tracked student progress, and saw more than three quarters of the cohort complete their injection certification this way.
Michelle was one of these students. She completed her training at a local Rexall in Waterloo, under the supervision of Waterloo Pharmacy alumnus Joe Neureuther. The lessons stuck and Michelle had ample opportunity to give injections through fall 2020, both on her second work-term at Costco in Guelph and working part-time at a Rexall flu clinic.
“Throughout the flu season, patients ended up referring family and friends to me because they were surprised at how painless it was,” she says. “Children didn’t realize I injected them until I was finished, which was a testament to the amazing technique and training from Joe and my mentors at Costco.”
When Michelle passed the 1,000-vaccine mark, a vice president from Costco Pharmacy visited her team and congratulated her. Later in the season, vaccine supply issues slowed Michelle’s injections rate.
Giving flu shots during the COVID-19 pandemic helped Michelle appreciate how important pharmacists are as providers of health services.
“Some of my flu shot patients were vaccine hesitant and were receiving the shot for the first time,” she says. “The transparent answers to questions, clear communication, and the confidence that I showed in my day-to-day work – in turn, it all gave them confidence. It’s a role that has a lot of trust involved, and each action or word may play a part in impacting that patient’s life.”
It’s an important takeaway, especially given that pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy students are part of Ontario’s Phase Two rollout plan of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Patients recognized me months after receiving their vaccination and told me how they hoped to receive their COVID-19 vaccination from me in the future,” she says.
Michelle’s work-terms during the pandemic have helped her become comfortable with uncertainty.
“Those early days in March and April 2020 involved being the rock that patients could lean on, while trying my best to learn about a disease that the world knew very little about,” she says. “The shift into providing reassurance, answering questions that no one really knew the answer to, sifting through misinformation, and biting down on any fear I was feeling for myself, my team, and my family, was what made my job even more fulfilling.”
As she looks ahead to pharmacy’s role in providing COVID-19 vaccinations, Michelle is undaunted.
“Pharmacy is an essential piece in the intricate puzzle of Canada’s health-care system. As we prepare to begin immunizing the community, I look forward to playing a role in providing COVID-19 vaccines.”
March is Pharmacy Appreciation Month. This month, in our #PAM2021 series, the School of Pharmacy is highlighting the unique ways that the pharmacy community has supported Canadians through the pandemic.