Katherine Lund, a junior at the University of Portland School of Nursing, tends her station at the Oregon Convention Center vaccination clinic in March. “Some patients have cried,” said Lund. “Some because it hurt, some so happy that the worry is ending, others so happy to see their grandkids again.” (Courtesy Katherine Lund)
Katherine Lund, a junior at the University of Portland School of Nursing, tends her station at the Oregon Convention Center vaccination clinic in March. “Some patients have cried,” said Lund. “Some because it hurt, some so happy that the worry is ending, others so happy to see their grandkids again.” (Courtesy Katherine Lund)
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They want to be in there to help.

" — Casey Shillam, dean and professor at the U.P. School of Nursing, on the resolve of nursing students

When Oregon desperately needed her, Katherine Lund stepped forward, hypodermic needle in hand.

Like other student nurses at the University of Portland, Lund eagerly volunteered to give COVID-19 vaccines this spring at the Oregon Convention Center. With hundreds of thousands of Oregonians ready for shots, those with injection knowhow have been in high demand.

“Some patients have cried,” said Lund, a junior from Pasadena, California. “Some because it hurt, some so happy that the worry is ending, others so happy to see their grandkids again. Helping give that to people has been fulfilling.”

Lund, a regular at Sunday Mass in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher on the U.P. campus, said this pandemic year has been a lesson in resilience and adaptation. “Nursing is a job when you are on the spot a lot,” she said. “I am glad to have those skills in my repertoire.”

Though she would not have chosen the pandemic, 2020 has deepened her vocation to nursing in ways she didn’t expect. Prayer and surrender to the divine will have gotten her through. 

“My dad always says, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,’” Lund said. “But I am right where I think I need to be.”

Lund had been looking forward to a clinical assignment this school year at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in North Portland. Like most internships and residencies, it got postponed.

It’s been a year of online classes, plus practice in the modern simulated hospital rooms on the U.P. campus. For Lund, getting out into a bustling and historic vaccination clinic was thrilling, even if hard work.

“It has been one of the most surreal experiences,” she said. Surrounded by hundreds of physicians, nurses, military troops and volunteers, she sees about 100 patients per day. Speed does count because of the urgency, but Lund has enjoyed the often sunny interactions.

“I learned how supportive the public is of nurses,” she said. “We are seen as more critical and key, not just as the doctor’s aide.”

From fear to engagement

Casey Shillam, dean and professor at the U.P. School of Nursing, said students who choose nursing tend to be community-minded. U.P. student nurses also helped deliver the vaccine to Portlanders who are homeless.

“They want to be in there to help,” said Shillam, who regretted temporarily canceling in-person classes and clinical placements but knew sooner than most that public health was at risk in 2020.

Setting aside fear and helping others are parts of Catholic social teaching, Shillam said. “Students and faculty went from fear and not knowing how to respond to now this place of really engaging in such powerful ways.” 

Once the vaccine became available, faculty as well as students stepped up to help. Teams from nursing schools vaccinated busy staff at maxed-out hospitals and clinics. At the convention center, each team of four or five student nurses had a teacher on site. Other pods went to help with the drive-through vaccine site at Clackamas Town Center shopping mall and other pop-up clinics in Clackamas County.

Shillam, an Air Force veteran whose doctoral research focused on pain management in elders, said the year called forth creativity among nursing schools and health officials. For example, the Oregon Center for Nursing hosted a weekly online meeting for nursing leaders from many sectors. Early on, that gathering helped nursing school officials find masks, shields and other protective gear for students when the items were in short supply. 

Shillam said the year taught students a spiritual lesson: They can’t control world circumstances but are in charge of their reactions to what the world dishes out. That’s no easy task, as students have seen grandparents and even parents succumb to the virus. Kate Hamburg, this year’s dean’s award winner at the U.P. nursing school, lost her father.