Einstein Students Join COVID-19 Vaccination Effort

As COVID-19 vaccination efforts ramp up in New York and around the country, Einstein students have already logged 700 hours as volunteer vaccinators and vaccine coordinators in the Bronx. In the few weeks since the effort launched on Jan. 7, Einstein medical students have given hundreds of doses of the Pfizer or Moderna shot to people at Weiler Hospital and Montefiore’s Comprehensive Family Care Center (CFCC) on Eastchester Road.

Joshua Nosanchuk, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from third-year M.D./Ph.D. student Brett Bell at Weiler Hospital
Joshua Nosanchuk, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from third-year M.D./Ph.D. student Brett Bell at Weiler Hospital.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation,” says Bryan Szeglin, a fourth-year medical student and one of the team of four Einstein students who are coordinating the student volunteer effort, which also includes fourth-years Anna Bitners and Rachel Weinstock and third-year Taneisha Sinclair. “As the governor has expanded the group of people who qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, the volume of people signing up for the shot has increased drastically,” Mr. Szeglin says. So far 43 Einstein students have signed up as vaccinators, and 50 are helping in other roles.

Because the New York State Department of Health requires that students have one year of clinical experience before they can administer the COVID-19 shot, most of the vaccinator slots are currently being filled by fourth-year medical students. But as of the end of January, all third-year medical students are now eligible to participate as vaccinators, based on completing three-quarters of their third-year clerkships. Other Einstein students are also filling important roles by coordinating volunteer scheduling, checking in patients at the vaccine sites, and monitoring people after they receive the shot for side effects.

Filling a Need

Once the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, Ms. Sinclair reached out to Joshua Nosanchuk, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education, to ask how she could help administer them. Dr. Nosanchuk was already working with Montefiore leadership on the same issue, so the timing was perfect. “He emailed me back right away to say that Einstein and Montefiore were interested in partnering with students,” Ms. Sinclair says. “He asked if I would be on board to help, and of course I said yes.”

Clockwise from top left are student coordinators Taneisha Sinclar, Bryan Szeglin, Rachel Weinstock, and Anna Bitners during a video conference call
Clockwise from top left are student coordinators Taneisha Sinclar, Bryan Szeglin, Rachel Weinstock, and Anna Bitners during a video conference call.

She and the three fourth-year medical students, who had experience organizing the spring COVID-19 volunteer efforts, met up and got to work. On Dec. 30 the group sent all Einstein students an email requesting their help with the vaccination effort, and more than 80 responded immediately. The student organizers started assigning shifts at two Montefiore sites based on students’ clinical experience and availability.

Vaccination training included a one-hour online course on allergy and immunology and a two-hour, on-site instruction on how to screen patients, prepare the vials, give the intramuscular shot, and document the inoculation. Ms. Sinclair was one of the first Einstein students to administer a shot to patients. “The nurse watched me for about five or six patients,” she says, “and then I was allowed to set up my own station.”

Grateful for Student Help

Initially, Ms. Sinclair was nervous because she had never given someone a shot before. Her first vaccine recipients were other healthcare professionals and some Einstein professors. “And they knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing,” she says. “But after about the tenth person I was more relaxed, and it became more like second nature.” She ended up vaccinating 24 people on her first four-hour volunteer shift. “All the nurses are just so grateful and so excited to have the students there,” she says.

I felt really helpless in the beginning of all of this. But now, even though I’m only a third-year medical student, I feel like I’m playing this huge role.

Taneisha Sinclair

Ms. Sinclair, who is on her surgery rotation at Montefiore’s Wakefield Hospital, says she is encouraging more students to sign up to help. “I know I felt really helpless in the beginning of all of this,” she says. “But now, even though I’m only a third-year medical student, I feel like I’m playing this huge role.”

Fellow coordinator Rachel Weinstock, who is applying for a residency in family medicine, says she is “really proud to be a part of this community of students who are always willing to step up to help.”

Dr. Nosanchuk agrees. “Throughout this horrific pandemic, Einstein students have continued to amaze and inspire us with their volunteerism and continued dedication to the community. Their creativity and resilience have kept Einstein strong.”

Mr. Szeglin, who is juggling management of volunteer signups while interviewing for a residency in general surgery and conducting bench research, says he has experience with suturing but none in vaccination, which is not part of the regular medical school curriculum. But he is hoping to squeeze in time for getting trained.

Most of all, he says, he is eager to expedite the process of putting the pandemic in the past. “From March, when we were first pulled from rotations because of the pandemic, to building face masks and face shields in April, to actually administering the vaccine now—it’s remarkable when you think about it.”

Ms. Bitners, who is interviewing now for her pediatrics residency while coordinating student volunteers and checking up on them daily at Weiler, seconds that sentiment. “Being able to get the COVID-19 shot and then vaccinate others against a disease we hadn’t even heard of a little more than 12 months ago is really an incredible feat,” she says. “It speaks to all the work that the scientific community has done to get us here.”

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