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Mount Nurses, Students Vaccinate Against COVID

When it’s your turn to get your COVID vaccine, it may very well be a Mount nurse giving you a literal shot in the arm

January 13, 2021

In the quest to get all of their healthcare colleagues vaccinated against COVID-19, Mount student nurses and nursing graduates have served as vaccination heroes at various locations around Los Angeles.

Standing (left to right): Mount instructor and a Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins, Clarissa Graves, Cayleigh Milam, Carmen Cortes, Angela Bacon, Racine Acuna, Lea Park and Desiree Aldapa. Seated (left to right): Sunshine Settles, Tamara Mendoza and Breanne Morales.
Standing (left to right): Mount instructor and a Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins, Clarissa Graves, Cayleigh Milam, Carmen Cortes, Angela Bacon, Racine Acuna, Lea Park and Desiree Aldapa. Seated (left to right): Sunshine Settles, Tamara Mendoza and Breanne Morales.

Over their winter break, a group of nursing students participated in the COVID vaccine clinic at Torrance Memorial Medical Center during its #AShotAtHope campaign. TMMC’s physicians and RNs had started vaccinating their colleagues, but the help from Mount students enabled them to focus on their patients. 

The students, all seniors, were excited to have this experience. “The staff have been so kind and willing to teach us,” Cayleigh Milan says. “I hope to continue to help fight COVID-19 in any way that I can. I am forever grateful for the experience and knowledge I have gained from the staff at Torrance Memorial.”

Alex Thomas, who hopes to work as an ER nurse in the future, mirrored Milan’s comments about the hospital staff. Other frequently repeated comments included being excited and humbled by being a part of history and being happy to have the opportunity to contribute.

“The hope shining through the room as we administered vaccines was nothing short of incredible!” says Hailey Kayatta.

MSMU nursing student Tamara Mendoza administers the COVID vaccine to Mount instructor and Torrance Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins.
MSMU nursing student Tamara Mendoza administers the COVID vaccine to Mount instructor and Torrance Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins.

“My experience at Torrance Memorial was phenomenal,” says Rosemary Houlihan. “It was an amazing opportunity to administer the vaccine to my future colleagues. Even though my contribution was small, it felt great to know I was helping our frontline workers stay safe during this pandemic.”

Clarissa Graves spoke to the future — and not just the immediate post-pandemic future: “I can’t wait for my kids to one day ask, ‘Mom, so what did you do when there was a pandemic?’ and I can say, ‘Well, your mom helped in the fight against Covid-19.’”

Maria (Odicta) Huskins ’97 ADN, has worked at TMMC’s cardiothoracic unit for more than 20 years and is a clinical instructor at the Mount. She helped coordinate the effort between TMMC and the Mount and says, “We were the only school present at the COVID vaccine clinic. Makes me proud to see Mount students administering the first COVID vaccines.”

Left to right: Mount instructor and Torrance Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins, Hanan Hawa, Rosemary Houlihan, Hailey Kayatta, Jose Manzo and Alex Thomas.
Left to right: Mount instructor and Torrance Memorial Medical Center RN Maria Huskins, Hanan Hawa, Rosemary Houlihan, Hailey Kayatta, Jose Manzo and Alex Thomas.

Mount students worked seven different clinic days between December 29 and January 14, with several students participating as many as four times. The nine-hour days started at 5:45 am and saw between 600 and 650 vaccines administered each time.

Other students participating in TMMC’s clinics were: Ruby Aguirre Rivera, Kayla Albania, Alejandro Amparan, Andrea Ayala, Jasmine Ben, Kiarah Castillo, Jamie Ferrer, Marielle Garcia, Celeste Jijon, Reinne Lim, Jennifer Morales, Daisy Munoz, Edith Pacheco, Jaester Paraon and Christianne Toledo.

According to the director of the Mount’s TBSN program, Marie Seitz ’98 BSN, Ferrer and Mia Macias also participated in another clinic that vaccinated 140 health care providers. “We are also continuing to participate in an ongoing way with the TMMC vaccination clinics,” Seitz says, “and we are going to be helping Keck USC Medical Center with contact tracing and their vaccination effort very soon. Mount nurses are absolutely improving the health of the Los Angeles community and reflecting the charism of the sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.”

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"When Dean Fitzgerald notified us of chance to volunteer to vaccinate healthcare workers, I knew right away that I wanted to be part of this project. Working at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Torrance Memorial is one of my proudest moments as a nursing student. The staff at Torrance was so welcoming, and they made us feel so appreciated for the hours spent helping their community. I made some new friends and created a stronger bond with my classmates from both the night and day cohort, as we all spent our Christmas and New Year’s with each other, the patients and staff at Torrance. I would like to thank the staff of Torrance Memorial and our instructor, Maria Huskins, for making my winter break one to remember." 
-- Sunshine Settles

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Their efforts are not going unnoticed. Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor, tweeted a photo of a woman participating in the vaccination efforts. The unidentified woman was tracked down thanks to help from Ryan Cavada ’07 ADN, both an elementary school and Mount classmate of Jamie (Wells) Robledo BSN ‘08, a supervising clinic nurse for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center.

Robledo says that, as the largest county facility in Los Angeles, that they’ve been able to vaccinate 30% of the county’s healthcare force and are currently providing second-round vaccines to that population, whether they’re in patient care or work within the facility. She doesn’t have an exact timeframe yet, but says that they’re getting close to vaccinating the first tier of the general population — those 75 and over or with chronic conditions — as dictated by state guidelines.


“With COVID, everything’s ever changing,” she says of trying to predict timing or exactly how the distribution will be organized. “It can be hard, but we adapt, move on and try to help everyone as much as possible. We’re doing the best we can, day by day. 

“There’s a lot of excitement about the vaccine, but we do have staff who are hesitant to get vaccinated because of distrust of medicine or a distrust of government. Education is a huge piece. If the staff is sick, how are we going to serve other people who are sick? As a nurse, I believe in medicine. I believe in research and evidence-based practice. I got mine, so I’m ready to go.”

Even student nurse Angela Bacon, one of the many who volunteered at TMMC, sounded like she initially had at least some reservations or uneasiness, but that giving the vaccine to all the staff, including the doctors and nurses, gave her the courage to get the vaccine too. 

Even when people are vaccinated, Robledo says it’s important to keep following all the protocols such as wearing masks, washing your hands frequently and maintaining distance in order to protect those who haven’t gotten the vaccine yet. “The vaccine isn’t the end all, be all yet, until we reach herd immunity,” she says, which won’t be until 75-80% of the entire population has either had COVID or has been vaccinated.

Robledo, who wrote, “Thank goodness for my GREAT nursing education from @msmu_la!!!”  when she reposted the mayor’s tweet in her Instagram feed, says, “I strongly believe that Mount Saint Mary’s has literally definitely helped with all my endeavors as a nurse.” She added that she can tell when another nurse received her training at the Mount. “We have a different ideal or perspective, high ethics, all those things. It’s so amazing.”

Leah Fitzgerald, PhD, FNP-BC and dean of nursing, is understandably proud of Mount student nurses past and present. “MSMU nursing students and faculty are working alongside our academic partners learning firsthand the logistical challenges and coordination of the vaccine distribution network,” she says. “They are living the Roy Model and adapting to the needs of the community during these unprecedented times – adding to the uniqueness of a Mount nurse.” Fitzgerald adds that the department is working with other clinical partners to provide similar services throughout the community.