UNLV nursing student Bianca Rodriguez-Villanueva is one of many future medical professionals racking up “clinical hours” required for graduation while also helping to meet an urgent public health need — administering COVID-19 vaccinations.

The 26-year-old said the most practice she had giving injections was during a clinical last semester at University Medical Center, which made working at UNLV’s vaccination site for a full day last month a little nerve-wracking.

But it was also meaningful.

“For me personally, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was a very emotional experience in particular,” Rodriguez-Villanueva said.

A few of her relatives in Mexico have died from COVID-19 and others are currently sick with the disease caused by the new coronavirus. By helping administer the vaccine, Rodriguez-Villanueva said she hopes she can help prevent others from losing loved ones.

Related: Clinic for 2nd vaccine doses opens at Las Vegas Convention Center

UNLV, which also is providing medical students to the unprecedented vaccination effort, isn’t the only local school contributing.

Other colleges also participating

Students from College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College are giving COVID-19 shots at education “point of dispensing” sites at UNLV and CSN’s Henderson campus, where preschool through 12th grade and higher educators and some other school employees are getting vaccinated.

The privately run Roseman University of Health Sciences and Touro University Nevada also are involved in the drive through the Southern Nevada Health District.

Students aren’t getting paid, but many are earning required clinical hours for their academic programs. And some are staying on for additional hours purely as volunteers.

“The work our students, faculty, staff, and volunteers are engaged in is genuinely lifesaving and, without a doubt, their efforts will be among the most important work they will take part in their lifetime,” Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose said in a statement to the Review-Journal. “I am so very thankful and proud of their efforts.”

It’s not the first time college students have been involved with local COVID-19 pandemic response. They’ve helped with needs such as coronavirus testing, contact tracing and producing testing supplies.

The Nevada State Board of Nursing gave its OK for utilizing nursing students for vaccination clinics while allowing them to earn clinical hours, said Sherri Lindsey, nursing department chairwoman at CSN.

But students, who aren’t yet licensed practitioners, aren’t flying solo.

“The instructor has to be with the students while vaccinating,” said Laura Martin, CSN associate degree nursing program director.

Students also must demonstrate competency with intramuscular injections before being allowed to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. For NSC’s nursing program, for example, that typically happens around week eight during a student’s first semester. Both faculty and students participating in vaccination clinics also had to undergo extensive training through online modules provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including specifics about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

‘Very well prepared’

Nevada State College nursing student Antonio Reyes, 23, was at the CSN Henderson vaccination site for the first time in mid-January. As a third-semester nursing student in a four-semester program, he said he has given countless injections during clinical hours at hospitals — an experience that aided in administering COVID-19 shots.

“We were very well prepared going into that scenario,” he said.

At UNLV, students, faculty members and staff, medical assistants from UNLV Medicine’s 15 clinics and health care professionals from UNLV’s Student Health Center are staffing the university’s vaccination site.

For students, “they feel like they’re doing something meaningful,” said Minnie Wood, director of clinical and community partnerships at UNLV’s School of Nursing. “Just to be part of it is a really amazing experience for them.”

At CSN, upper-level nursing students in the practical nursing and associate degree in nursing programs are administering vaccines at both the college’s Henderson site and at UNLV.

At Nevada State College, bachelor’s degree nursing students are administering the vaccine at UNLV and CSN Henderson, as well as assisting the Southern Nevada Health District with strike teams to bring clinics to predominately Hispanic and Black communities, said director of clinical partnerships Michael Johnson.

“The students are just so overwhelmed, I think, by being able to be on the front lines during this unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime thing that they’re experiencing,” he said.

Third-year UNLV medical doctor student Mason Montano was among the students administering COVID-19 vaccinations Jan. 22 at the university’s Student Union.

Montano, a Green Valley High School and UNLV nursing school alumnus, was previously a registered nurse for six years. He was administering the Pfizer vaccine and he said it has been well tolerated by patients. “As a whole, we haven’t had many issues at all.”

For Rodriguez-Villanueva, participating in the vaccination clinics was optional initially, she said, but then was made part of a class she’s taking. She said most of her nursing classes are online, but she’s also doing a clinical every other week at a hospital medical-surgical floor.

CSN licensed practical nurse student Jordan Bem, 32, said she has seen people from different walks of life while administering the vaccine, but they share a common goal — normalcy.

“Like everyone, we all just want things to be normal and put this situation behind us,” she said in a Monday email to the Review-Journal. “I hope one day soon this will be a memory and not continuing. A step in the process of making that happen is the vaccine, which will be in the history books one day.”

At Roseman University, dozens of student pharmacists and nurses — as well as faculty and staff — are volunteering at clinics, spokesman Jason Roth said in an email.

Students have helped vaccinate people at University Medical Center and with the health district at multiple locations, including Cashman Center and Whitney Senior Center. Roseman is also holding vaccination clinics at its Henderson and Summerlin campuses.

Touro students and faculty campus vaccinated about 425 people on Jan. 17 during a drive-thru clinic on campus. Patients were the university’s clinical students and faculty, health-care and frontline workers, and local residents ages 70 and older.

About 50 students from several different health care programs have been in involved in Touro’s clinics on campus, said Dr. Rebecca Edgeworth, assistant professor in the physician assistant studies program.

The school is also working with the health district on other vaccination clinics, such as at two held at senior centers last week, and plans to hold future vaccination events on campus.

Touro physician assistant student Yuriy Shpak, 27, said he saw an outpouring of emotion from patients while he gave vaccinations at a senior center. “

Some of them are crying tears of joys because this is the first step in being able to see their grandchildren,” he said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at [email protected] or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.