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Taking their shot: how SFU health sciences students are supporting Fraser Health vaccination efforts

August 06, 2021
Sharon Kular (left) and Olivia Tomlinson (right), both SFU health sciences students, have been working as co-op students to support vaccination efforts in the Fraser Health Authority this summer.

Walk through the doors of the former Fortius Sport & Health Centre in Burnaby, B.C. on any given day and you’ll be thrust into a bustle of activity. Since the facility was established as a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in April, a host of dedicated staff have been working long days to give thousands of vaccinations as safely and efficiently as possible.

And two of those staff members, Sharon Kular and Olivia Tomlinson, haven’t even finished their degrees at SFU yet.

When Kular and Tomlinson—both students in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences—saw that they could apply to work for the Fraser Health Authority as co-op students, they jumped at the chance.

“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Tomlinson. “Most other co-op jobs I could theoretically do at any time, but I wanted to be a part of our response, give back to the community and have a small but direct impact on the trajectory of the pandemic.”

Kular and Tomlinson belong to a cohort of 27 SFU students from various disciplines who are supporting Fraser Health’s pandemic response this summer. SFU was the only post-secondary institution in B.C. chosen to participate in this student recruitment campaign.

When Kular and Tomlinson started as clinic clerks in April, they were assigned to file and track client information, make note of allergies or autoimmune conditions, and answer any questions clients might have about the vaccination process. Since then, Kular has been promoted to lead clerk and now oversees general operations at the clinic, helping to receive vaccine shipments and troubleshoot technology issues.

For both students, the experience has been a unique way to see their classroom learning come to life.

“We learned in our classes about mRNA vaccines and how they work, and now we’re using that knowledge to explain the vaccine to clients who come in with questions,” says Kular.

“Sometimes people just need a bit of education to demystify the vaccination process, and once we explain it, they’re really appreciative,” adds Tomlinson. “It’s so gratifying to use our knowledge to make a positive difference.”

And while this may be an especially timely example, SFU co-op coordinator Isabella Silvestre says the co-op program is designed for these types of experiences.

“Our co-op placements are a win-win for everybody,” she says. “The students get to apply their learnings in a real-world setting, and employers get to tap into students’ knowledge and expertise.”

“Plus,” says Silvestre, “many of our students are at the beginning of their career journeys. Getting to network with people who are well-established in their field can help students have a better understanding of what their own career path might look like.”

This has been exactly the case for Kular, who hopes to go to medical school after graduating from SFU.

“At the clinic, I’ve gotten to meet both med students and people who have been physicians for years,” she says. “It’s helped me solidify that this is definitely the right career path for me and has motivated me to work harder so I can get there.”

Kular and Tomlinson may be finishing off their placements at the clinic this August, but the positive benefits of their time at Fraser Health will have a lasting impact.

“For me, the best part about my experience was the people,” says Kular. “Everyone has been so helpful and welcoming. I’ve built my network and also made friends I’ll keep in touch with.”

“All the different people we’ve met has been incredible,” says Tomlinson. “This placement has been great work experience, but it’s also given me memories that I’ll keep for the rest of my career.”