Dozens of Palomar College students have earned clinical hours administering COVID-19 vaccines at an Escondido site run by Palomar Health. A similar partnership with Tri-City Hospital is in the works.

ESCONDIDO — Inside the parking structure at Palomar Health’s downtown Escondido campus, nursing students from Palomar College have been assisting with one of North County’s COVID-19 vaccination sites to earn crucial clinical hours.

Amid the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 health crisis, the college’s Nursing Education Department has been forced to find creative ways for its students to earn the requisite hours, after most hospitals suspended academic access because of the virus.

Julianne Van Houten, chair of the Nursing Education Department, said that by the end of the semester all 136 students in the program will have rotated through the vaccination site.

“The students are learning valuable nursing skills, such as coordination of a vaccination event during a pandemic,” said Van Houten. “They get to practice giving intramuscular injections, and they get to assess patients for any adverse reactions post-vaccination.”

Van Houten said a similar partnership with Tri-City Medical Center is still in the planning stages, and students have also been able to earn hours screening employees, students, and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms at Palomar College’s San Marcos campus.

covid vaccination

Photos courtesy of Palomar Health.

To earn their nursing credentials, students must log 144 clinical hours during their first semester and 160 hours in their last three terms. Currently, only 25 to 50 percent of those hours have to be spent performing direct patient care. Van Houten said Scripps Green in La Jolla is the only local hospital accepting students for clinicals this semester.

“Since we opened, we have had a key partnership with Palomar Health, and we greatly appreciate the experiences provided to our students by Palomar Health, in all aspects,” she said. “I’m really hopeful we’ll be back in the fall, and we look forward to resuming our clinical partnership at the hospital.”

“I am really proud of the work and dedication of our nursing program faculty and leadership as they have been extremely diligent in resolving the challenges around providing clinical hours for our nursing students,” said Dr. Jack Kahn, Interim Superintendent/President of Palomar College.

Jennifer Miller, a second-semester nursing student at Palomar College, said she got some hospital experience last spring, before the pandemic began, but has been earning her clinical hours this semester at the vaccination site and at the campus COVID-19 symptom screening stations.

“It’s exciting to be able to help,” said Miller, who lives in Oceanside. “I really enjoyed it—we were actually giving the vaccine, and that’s a skill we’re learning this semester, so now I feel like I have mastered that skill.

“Everyone who is there to get a vaccine wants to be there,” Miller added. “Aside from the fact that we want to be training in the hospital, given the situation we’ve been handed, this made it a little better.”