USM Nursing student Caroline Fulcher learned how important vaccinations could be in the moments after she received her own COVID-19 shot.
She left the hospital and wept.
“I cried in my car afterwards because I was just profoundly relieved,” said Fulcher (pictured on the left). “I want to give that experience to as many people as possible.”
She will get her chance.
In January, University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy announced that more than 250 nursing students from throughout the system will be volunteering to help end the public health crisis this spring by participating in Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination deployment.
More than 100 of those students, including Caroline Fulcher, will come from USM’s School of Nursing.
Those students will go into hospitals and clinics. Some will help manage the flow of people. Others may administer the vaccine, said Brenda Petersen, who leads the School of Nursing and serves as USM’s assistant dean of the College of Science, Technology and Health.
To Fulcher and classmate Rebecca Seeley-Dolan (pictured at the right) — both part of a fast-track, 15-month nursing program — helping vaccinate people is both a way to care for people and a way to earn the vaccinations that they received as people working in clinical settings.
“I feel indebted to give back any way I can,” said Seeley-Dolan, a mother of three who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked for 16 years as a massage therapist before enrolling in the USM program.
“I decided I wanted to be more hands on with additional skills and more interaction with people,” she said.
Similarly, Fulcher wanted to be a nurse after earning a degree in environmental studies and finding work as a field botanist.
“I decided I wanted to work closer to people,” she said.
Both enrolled in November 2019, before people had heard of COVID 19. But when they started their classes the following May, the world had changed. Classes were going online. It was uncertain how the real-world clinical education would go on.
“I think we all had to reconcile this with ourselves,” Fulcher said. “This is going to be what our immediate future is looking like.”
Faculty and staff managed to arrange in-person clinical work for the students, despite COVID-19.
Petersen describes the students’ determination as “inspirational.”
“They took a leap of faith with us last May, in the midst of the pandemic,” she said. “They will be forever remembered as the courageous individuals who took that leap of faith. Despite the fear and working remotely, they came forward anyway.”
For a while, their instruction was entirely online. When the clinical work began in the fall, it was careful and protected, with no treatment of COVID-19 patients.
“We were in hospitals and working very close with other patients,” Seeley-Dolan said. “We were carefully watching each other and protecting each other. We were definitely in the trenches.”
Since getting the shots — both have now had their second — the women were overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of duty.
Seeley-Dolan has been doing all she could to protect her family, including an elderly parent, from any exposure. Fulcher has been protecting her roommates. Both look forward to getting more people vaccinated, in their homes and throughout the community.
“It does feel like it’s the most important thing we could be doing for the health of our community,” Fulcher said. “I came into this profession to help people. There is no better opportunity right now.”
Petersen believes this class of nurses, educated during the pandemic, will be a particularly tough and determined group.
Members are proving to themselves that they are strong and resolute.
“The need that the hospitals have for new nurses drives us,” she said. “We need to succeed, no matter what is thrown at us.”