Students eager to help with COVID-19 vaccination, testing as workforce faces intense pressure

Bethany Harrison is about to finish her nursing and paramedicine studies at Australian Catholic University and hopes to help with the vaccine effort. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Bethany Harrison is about to finish her nursing and paramedicine studies at Australian Catholic University and hopes to help with the vaccine effort. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Bethany Harrison knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was 15.

Now about to finish her studies, she is among the Canberra students ready to be called on to help provide the COVID-19 vaccine, protecting people and finally putting an end to harsh lockdowns and restrictions.

The 22-year-old Australian Catholic University student has been proud, watching on as nurses, doctors, paramedics and other front line workers haul Australia through the pandemic.

Now she hopes to take part in history.

"That's going to be me, hopefully helping battle this pandemic," she said.

"We can help."

Fully vaccinated and eager to assist, Ms Harrison hoped to be among students called on to provide the vaccine and assist with testing.

"When [the pandemic] first kicked off we got a bit of information to say almost standby, just to be an extra pair of hands working as assistants in nursing in the hospital ... if we need to," she said.

That never eventuated but the ACT government has been exploring clinical placements and other employment options to get students involved in vaccination and testing.

Exhibition Park's COVID-19 testing site has had lengthy wait times. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Exhibition Park's COVID-19 testing site has had lengthy wait times. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Health staff have been under intense pressure since the territory was sent into seven-day lockdown following the emergence of the Delta strain which has led to seven active cases.

While more testing sites are set up, the workforce is stretched and staff are being redeployed from other areas to help on the front line while the government is looking for help from the private sector.

For months, ACT health authorities have been considering how students could be deployed to aid their efforts.

"The ACT government is working with stakeholders to determine how and when suitably qualified students might be used in the ACT's COVID-19 pandemic response, including possible participation in vaccination and testing programs," an ACT Health spokesman said.

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ACU Executive Dean of Health Services Professor Justin Kemp said last month, most ACT-based students had been deemed eligible to do clinical placements by ACT Health.

"Some our industry partners in NSW and ACT have begun using ACU nursing and paramedicine students to administer COVID-19 vaccines once they have completed the training and under the supervision of the appropriate registered health professional," he said.

"The ACU staff at our NSW and Canberra campuses are registered nurses or registered paramedics and have also volunteered in the vaccination rollout and testing centres."

He said students and staff were "ready to assist" when needed.

Ms Harrison was convinced nursing and paramedicine was the path for her after having major surgery at 15.

Through her studies, she has been overcome by patients letting her in to the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

"It's a privilege," she said.

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This story 'We can help': ACT students eager to join COVID-19 fight first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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