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Student nurses hired for Vanderbilt’s pandemic relief team

Students replace cancelled internships with nursing shifts at Vanderbilt during wave of Covid-19.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078  | 

Lipscomb nurse in the nursing building

With uncertainty about the intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into this summer, 15 of Lipscomb University’s student nurses have been hired onto the Vanderbilt University Medical Center COVID-19 temporary labor pool.

The students, ranging from May graduates to December 2021 future graduates, were originally hired for an eight-week period as care partners, non-licensed care providers who assist the nursing staff in taking vital signs, blood pressure and taking temperatures, said April Kapu, professor at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and associate nursing officer, director, advanced practice, who is overseeing the central labor pool for Vanderbilt’s nurses at this time.

Later in the summer, the hospital asked everyone on the temporary labor pool to remain employed on the team for an undetermined amount of time, Kapu said.

The Lipscomb students picked up summer shifts to help with the screening of employees and patients who enter the hospital, but in the event that the pandemic intensifies and patients outstrip the capabilities of the staff at Vanderbilt, the duties of the relief team could be expanded. 

Vanderbilt began preparing for an intense surge of coronavirus cases in mid-March, said Kapu. In a two-week period the medical center reached out to various universities and facilities throughout the area and hired 460 people for the temporary COVID team.

“If you have a challenge of more patients, then having an extra pair of hands in invaluable,” said Kapu. “And they are able to learn so much. They hear the discussions on rounds. They will see in real-time how we are learning about this new disease. Every day there is a new study released or a new treatment recommended. If there is ever a time to be in a learning environment, it is certainly now.”

Rojeda Merani

Lipscomb senior Rojeda Merani, a member of the nursing relief team, was originally accepted into Vanderbilt Experience: Student Nurse Internship Program (VESNIP), a six-week program during the summer that allows student nurses to work in a variety of clinical settings. 

When VESNIP had to be cancelled due to COVID-related issues, she was happy to have the opportunity to volunteer for the Vanderbilt temporary COVID-19 pool, allowing her to continue gaining real-world nursing experience this summer despite the pandemic.

Depending on the needs of the hospital, Merani could potentially care for patients—with or without COVID-19, by documenting vital signs and food intake and helping patients move around as scheduled, she said.

Thanks to previous clinical rotations at Vanderbilt, most of the Lipscomb students on the relief team are already familiar with the hospital’s charting system, layout and logistics and the location of supplies.

“I am so thankful that Vanderbilt extended this opportunity to nursing students.  Our students have so much to offer,” said Chelsia Harris, executive director of the School of Nursing. “Opportunities like this strengthen and stretch them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They are learning invaluable lessons that will continue with them throughout their career. I could not be more impressed with how our students have leaned into their call to nursing and are committed to serving in this capacity.  They inspire me every single day.”

Molly Joseph in mask

Molly Joseph

Molly Joseph, also a senior hired for the temporary pool, has been screening patients and visitors at the hospital’s entry points. She saw her summer plans to spend a month serving as a nurse in Malawi, Africa, cancelled due to the pandemic, so she believes the opportunity to pick up shifts at Vanderbilt “is a way that God has redeemed this summer for me.”

“I feel like this is where God wants me to be so that brings me peace at this time, and I’m excited I can be part of history,” said Joseph, who has long known she wants to become a nurse. “I feel ready to be called. Nursing is a definite calling and I feel privileged to be part of it.”