On a Wednesday morning this past February, after the winter storm that left Texas paralyzed for a week, a long line of people lined up outside Gregory Gym, in the heart of the Forty Acres. People waited patiently, masked under the warm sun and with the proverbial six feet of distance apart from each other. They were all scheduled to take their COVID-19 shots.
Of the many campus transformations following the onset of pandemic last March—empty offices, quiet classrooms, shutdown performance centers—the recent conversion of Gregory Gym into a vaccination clinic has been one brimming with hope.
The vaccination effort is being implemented through a cross-campus collaboration that includes UT Health Austin and Dell Medical School, University Health Services, the College of Pharmacy, the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, the School of Nursing and the Office of Campus Safety. Additional collaboration is occurring with Austin Public Health, the City of Austin, Travis County and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The vaccination program is a testament to the interprofessional collaboration that undergirds health education and delivery at UT Austin. UT Health Austin operationalized and is providing the infrastructure for the vaccination clinic. The School of Nursing is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to coordinating the day-to-day logistics and clinical work of vaccinating thousands of individuals a day. The College of Pharmacy is staffing the vaccine mixing rooms. And the Steve Hicks School of Social Work is providing many of the dozens of volunteer patient navigators that ensure a smooth movement of people from check-in to vaccination, observation and check-out.
“The vaccination clinic is a happy place; it’s full of the feeling that there is life after COVID,” said professor of clinical nursing Stephanie Morgan, who directs the clinic’s day-to-day operations. “It is also the expression of a strong interprofessional team, where all of us know the scope of our roles but we are also willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Barbara Jones, associate dean for health affairs at the Steve Hicks School, volunteered as a patient navigator in early January, when the clinic opened in the Health Discovery Building.
“Being able to help at the clinic, in person, was quite a moving and rewarding experience,” Jones recalled. “I immediately saw that there was a need for volunteers and that it was a perfect opportunity for social workers; it’s about patient flow and information but it is also about connecting and providing support to people who may be anxious or scared or frustrated.”
Jones coordinated with Morgan to open volunteering spots for social work faculty and staff to provide patient navigation and de-escalation support. The response was overwhelming.
“The response from the Steve Hicks School has been fantastic,” Morgan said. “We had many patients who needed someone to sit with them while getting the shot because they suffer from needle phobia, or who needed a buddy to walk with them through the process or who just needed someone who could listen to them. It is a perfect role for social workers.”
In March, as the vaccination clinic scaled up its operations after moving to Gregory Gym, volunteering spots were also opened to social work students.
“It has been a great process for all of us who put in 80-plus hours a week on this project,” Morgan said. “It keeps us going, because there is nothing that feeds the soul of a healthcare person as seeing the appreciation of people who are finding relief. It is beautiful to watch all the health-related disciplines on campus come together to make this happen.”
Jones said that the teamwork coming together at the vaccination clinic is the culmination of years of interprofessional collaborative practice and education that has been occurring among the Dell Medical School, the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, the College of Pharmacy and the School of Nursing.
“It is because we have been working together so long to create interprofessional opportunities that we know and trust each other and were ready to work together to help our community,” Jones said.