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King's students volunteer to join the NHS vaccine team

Hundreds of King’s medical, dental and nursing students are volunteering to help with the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Why did they sign up? The students explain:

While families across the UK were readjusting their festive plans as the government tightened social restrictions, King’s student Alexa Wilms was preparing for her first vaccine shift at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

The second-year medical student had volunteered to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination programme. She says: “I thought it would be eye-opening to experience working in healthcare during a pandemic, in particular a department that is so involved in the frontline."

Alexa is just one of the hundreds of King’s medical, dental and nursing students who have volunteered to help vaccinate South London’s most vulnerable patients. Responding to urgent requests from the Trust in December and January, the students have been placed in unregistered immuniser (vaccination support workers in training) and admin roles. With their help, more than six million people in the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine to date.

Curran Patel, a final year dental student at King’s, has just signed up to join the vaccination effort. He saw it as a vital opportunity to contribute to the effort to combat the pandemic. He explains: “5th year dental students have a wide breath of clinical skills that are directly applicable in this role as a vaccinator."

For instance, dental students are constantly exercising communicative skills, taking histories, delivering local aesthetic, conducting operative and surgical procedures. Such skills can be extrapolated to this role deeming final year dental students’ ideal candidates.– Curran Patel, a final year dental student at King’s

Sandra Pereira Brito had over a decade of work experience in the health and social care sector under her belt before she started her mental health nursing course at King’s. Offering to volunteer for the vaccination programme was not only a chance to help people during a public health emergency, but a chance for her to use her background and the skills gained from her course to improve her practise.

She said: “Through volunteering I can expand my experience, as well as provide skills and knowledge I’ve gained from my course so far. Working as part of the vaccination team I can shadow registered nurses and learn more about the correct administration of medicine, including injections and monitoring the results of treatment.”

Shifts at Guy’s and St Thomas’ start early. Medical students with patient assessor roles arrive before 8am to hear how many bookings they have that day and the target for how many vaccines they hope to give out. Then, they must assess each patient to see whether they are fit enough to receive the vaccine. Each student assesses around ninety patients a day.

Pinky vaccination

Pinky Kotecha, a medical student in her final year, works as both a vaccinator and alerts patients who have been allocated the jab. She said: “I wanted to feel useful to the NHS and be a part of history. Now that my final exams are finished, I’m able to dedicate my time to volunteering. I get to inform patients that they are able to get the vaccine and it’s like giving them a golden ticket.”

While the work is tiring, morale is high. Alexa says: “You can sense a lot of hope among the patients. A lot of them express how excited they are to be slowly making the steps to head out of this pandemic. I often also experience how grateful the patients are - one even offered to buy my colleague and I a coffee to show his appreciation.”

If anyone comes for a vaccination and is feeling apprehensive, Sandra hopes to be able to offer reassurance to patients and their loved ones when she begins her volunteering.

‘I want to be able to help build relationships with patients to encourage trust, while listening to and interpreting their needs and concerns, and if any patients are feeling anxious, I can support them in managing their emotions through de-escalation techniques.’


Curran agrees with the sense of optimism: “The vaccination programme certainly does give me hope of a return to normality and I believe this has been the educated consensus when the pandemic situation started in December 2019. It is the only route to normality and I’m proud to be part of the effort.”

Professor Kim Piper, Dean for Education at King’s Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences is pleased the dental students are able to help the Trust. “The clinical dental students have experience of treating patients and performing injections as part of their course so helping this way is a natural extension of their role.”

Shifts patterns can vary, and as term has begun Alexa will work at Guy’s and St Thomas’ on weekends to fit in her studies. The demand for students to volunteer fluctuates depending on the current situation. But her experience at assessing patients have vastly improved her confidence. She says: “Typically when I have been on placement previously, I've always been quite shy and quiet, as I didn't feel as confident in a clinical setting. Through this, I have an understanding of the healthcare system and I've gained tons of patient experience.”


In this story

Kim  Piper

Kim Piper

Academic Lead for Student Success

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