Maura Freme thought she’d never want to work with pediatric patients.
Then, two weeks ago, the third-year nursing student started giving COVID-19 shots to kids.
“I have a couple of more shifts going to middle schools and I’m actually kind of excited about it,” she said.
Freme is one of about 100 undergraduate USM nursing students helping to vaccinate the community against COVID-19 this semester. Nursing students have been involved in vaccination efforts since the shots became widely available earlier this year, working with thousands of patients, but this is the first time they have been tasked with giving shots to patients so young — 5 years old and up.
The students are working with InterMed, a Southern Maine primary care medical group, and with Northern Light Health, a Brewer-based health system that is operating vaccination clinics in schools.
“Some of them are doing vaccines. Some of them are drawing up the vaccines. Some of them are facilitating the flow of the clinics, interacting on all levels to support really whatever they need,” said Leslie Larsen, Undergraduate Nursing Coordinator for the USM School of Nursing.
While adults and teenagers have been able to get the shot for months, children 5 to 11 years old only recently became eligible. That’s caused a new wave of patients for vaccination clinics and a new need to do things a little differently.
“This is a skill that’s different because kids generally aren’t that excited about (getting a shot),” Larsen said.
While they volunteer extensively in the community, USM nursing students don’t vaccinate children in a typical year. But this has not been a typical year.
“We altered our education model,” Larsen said. “We used to kind of teach in the silo of age. Now a student is working and in one day they might see a teenager, a 5-year-old, and a 99-year old.”
Freme has been giving COVID shots since the beginning of the semester in September. All of her patients had been adults or teenagers until a couple of weeks ago. She picked up tips from Larsen, a former pediatric nurse: Distraction is key, try giving a pretend shot to the child’s stuffed animal, remain calm even when the child cannot, keep the event quick.
Freme has now given dozens of shots to kids from kindergarten to middle school. There’s been a lot less crying than she expected.
“They were more adult-like. You can tell they were getting nervous, but you just talk to them and ask them how their day is going. . . they’re so cute, so easy to talk to,” she said.
Some kids didn’t understand anything more than they needed a shot. Others were aware of the vaccine’s role in stemming the pandemic.
“We had a 9-year-old last week who was very intelligent about it,” she said. “He was talking like, ‘Oh, yes, I’m going to be able to do whatever I want now after this!’ We all laughed. He was very excited to get the shot.”
For Freme, it’s been a learning experience — and a great one. She thought she didn’t want to work with kids as a nurse, but it turns out she enjoys it.
And she’s enjoys the experience of working in the community.
“It’s kind of fun to give a COVID vaccine because you feel like you’re making a difference,” she said.