After Battling COVID-19, Jefferson Nursing Student Vaccinates Frontline Workers

Jennifer Paone, her husband and their four children all battled the virus, and that inspired her to volunteer.

When Jennifer Paone saw an email seeking nursing-student volunteers to help with this past week’s roll-out of the effort to vaccinate frontline Jefferson Health workers, she didn’t hesitate to jump into action.

“When I heard about this opportunity, I said, ‘I’m absolutely interested. Throw me into the lion’s den,’” recalls Paone, a junior in the Jefferson College of Nursing.

That eager response was inspired by educational and personal perspectives. In late October, her husband—a firefighter in Southwest Philadelphia—was diagnosed with COVID-19. It was a day before she was due to start her clinical rotation, but it had to be put on hold due to quarantine protocols.

On the first day of the vaccination effort, nursing student Jennifer Paone helped check-in those receiving the vaccine, and served in an observer role after they received it.

Soon, the virus spread throughout her Northeast Philadelphia household. First, their four-year-old son tested positive. Then, their three daughters—ages 5, 8 and 12—showed symptoms, including the loss of  smell and taste. (The youngest of the trio tested positive via nasal swab; the oldest daughter tested positive for antibodies.) Then, it was Paone’s turn.

“I got the worst of it. I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing. My temperature was at 103 degrees. The headaches were so bad,” recalls Paone, noting that she missed her entire clinical rotation due to the spread. “It seemed like it was never-ending.”

Paone—who applied to Jefferson’s nursing program this January after 11 years working at a daycare in Elkins Park—and her family, recovered from their bout with COVID-19. She notes that the support she got from professors and fellow students was remarkable.

“They are the most supportive people I’ve ever met in my life,” she shares. “My lab group reached out and took the time to go over assignments that I missed, and teachers called, texted and even Face Timed me. When does that ever happen in a university as big as Jefferson? They made me feel like I mattered, and they were genuinely concerned about me and my family.”

Jennifer Paone's husband and four children also battled COVID-19 in recent months.

This week, she embarked on a unique effort to both make up those missed clinical hours while giving back to healthcare frontline workers battling against the virus since March.

On Wednesday, the first day of vaccinations, she arrived at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital before 7 a.m. At first, she was asked to perform an observer role, before administering vaccinations herself.

“I was so nervous!” she shared after her 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. shift ended. It was her first in a series of rotations that runs through late January.

“I observed the patients for 15 minutes to make sure they were feeling well and then, after 15 minutes, I had to get the patients to sign a form that stated that they got the vaccine and that they felt well enough to leave. At 11 a.m. it was time; I got to do vaccinations!”

I felt honored to be a part of this historical time in our lives and I was so excited to get home and tell my family about it. –Jennifer Paone

Suffice it to say, Paone—whose story has already attracted media attention—was excited.

“Everyone was so grateful and thanked me for volunteering my time for this exciting experience,” she shared. “I used comfort techniques learned in my nursing-foundations class for a patient who was scared of needles. It felt great to make her laugh and use humor to calm her nerves.

“Overall, I felt honored to be a part of this historical time in our lives and I was so excited to get home and tell my family about it. I’m sure that by the end of this, I will be confident in my intramuscular injection technique!”

Dr. Marie Ann Marino, dean of the Jefferson College of Nursing could not be prouder of the response from Paone and 77 other student volunteers from JCN and the College of Pharmacy.

“We are at the dawn of an incredible opportunity, not only for Jefferson, but for all humanity,” says Dr. Marino. “We are humbled and grateful that the faculty, staff, and students at the Jefferson College of Nursing will serve in integral roles as the COVID-19 vaccine is deployed to our heroic frontline staff. We are so proud of our colleagues and stand ready to assist in all ways.”

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