After years of transporting patients to the emergency room as a paramedic in California, Timothy Ulleseit said he wanted to treat patients holistically “and help them over years, not minutes.”
But just six months after entering the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program, the onset of COVID-19 curtailed in-person classes and some clinical experiences. He felt sidelined while his former colleagues were on the front lines.
That changed Dec. 24 when he got to help administer COVID-19 vaccines to OHSU health care workers in Multnomah Pavilion on OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus.
“Hi, my name’s Tim. I’m a PA student and I’ll be giving your vaccine today,” Ulleseit said as he greeted another OHSU employee, a nurse, at the door to the clinic and escorted her to a spacious exam room. He logged her information and calmly and efficiently injected the vaccine, making sure she could capture on her iPhone the moment when she crossed over toward safety from a virus that has killed more than 350,000 people in the U.S. and more than 1.8 million globally.
“Volunteering to give vaccines was finally a way for me to directly have an impact on COVID-19 and show my appreciation for all of the front-line workers who are fighting this virus head on,” Ulleseit said. “Giving the vaccine to so many front-line workers was a fantastic experience. I felt like I was actively participating in an historic moment.”
Across OHSU academic programs, students and trainees are stepping up to help distribute the vaccine.
Ryan Thrower, D.M.D., a first-year orthodontics resident and 2020 graduate of the OHSU School of Dentistry, administered the first OHSU vaccine to Ansu Drammeh, R.N., B.S.N., a cardiac intensive care nurse and 2018 graduate from the OHSU School of Nursing, becoming what OHSU believes is the first dentistry trainee in the U.S. to do so.
Oregon is the only state in the U.S. where dentists can administer any vaccine to patients of any age. (Think about it: injecting Novocain into patients’ gums without hitting a nerve is more challenging!)
“This vaccine has been slated at over 90 percent effective, which is incredible,” Thrower said in an OHSU video about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. “I am comfortable with it; I am comfortable telling my family to take it. It is one small step to not only protect ourselves but the people you care about the most.”
Thrower said it was humbling to share in this historic moment.
“As a Black female dentist, it was important for me to not only show that I am properly trained to administer vaccines, but to demonstrate that I support those who want to take the COVID-19 vaccination,” Thrower said.
Third-year medical students Elizabeth Batiuk and Haley Schroeder volunteered together at the vaccine clinic in Multnomah Pavillion on Christmas Eve, having both learned to give vaccines through a program called Vax for Parents. They shared an exam room, with their stations spaced apart. Between them, they vaccinated 100 people.
“We wanted to help give back to the OHSU workforce that has worked so hard this year to care for our community,” said Batiuk.
OHSU School of Nursing undergraduates and faculty also have partnered with OHSU Occupational Health to vaccinate OHSU health care workers. In the first week of vaccine distribution in December alone, 17 undergraduate students and four faculty members helped administer thousands of influenza vaccines at OHSU Health testing and vaccination sites at the Oregon Convention Center and Hillsboro Stadium.
And when it was time for Mary Tanski, M.D., associate professor and interim chair of emergency medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, to get her vaccine, Evita Santos, a second-year pharmacy student, did the honors. Santos, president-elect of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists for the Oregon State University-OHSU College of Pharmacy, has helped recruit students and preceptors to administer vaccines and has assisted at several clinics.
“For many patients, it has been an emotional journey to the point of finally receiving this vaccine,” Santos said. “It feels like I am being part of a long-awaited sigh of relief for many of OHSU's hardworking and dedicated workers.”