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UIC Nursing, UI Health selected for AACN “New Era” Award

Nursing student Maria Escamilla administering a COVID-19 vaccination

The UIC College of Nursing was selected for the 2021 “New Era for Academic Nursing Award” from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for its strong partnership with UI Health, the college’s practice partner, particularly to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our award submission focused on the extraordinary efforts of nursing faculty in clinical practice over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to support UI Health initiatives,” says Lauren Diegel-Vacek, DNP ’10, MS ’02, FNP-BC, CNE, FAANP, director of the UIC Nursing DNP program. “The heroic efforts of our faculty and students directly improved health outcomes for patients, the general public, and the UI Health and UIC communities.”

In December 2020, when emergency federal approval of COVID-19 vaccinations was on the horizon, UI Health leaders were planning a mass vaccination program for frontline staff. Building on a decades-long partnership that included mobilizing student nurse vaccinators for an annual influenza campaign, nursing faculty organized a program for more than 900 nursing and health sciences students to serve as COVID-19 clinic vaccinators.

This included two clinics: one for UI Health employees and faculty and staff of UIC health sciences colleges, and later a mass vaccination center for patients and community members at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena.

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Terri Weaver, Susan Corbridge, Lauren Diegel-Vacek, and Eileen Collins

Over the course of six months, from December 2020 to July 2021, volunteers contributed more than 21,160 hours and administered 106,467 COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The fact that we had a long-standing, solid foundation with UI Health allowed us to hit the ground running,” says Susan Corbridge, PhD ’09, APRN, FAAN, FAANP, FCCP, UIC Nursing executive associate dean. “We were able to quickly and efficiently collaborate with leaders on the healthcare delivery side to really make the vaccine clinic hum, almost immediately.”

UIC Nursing faculty and students also teamed with interprofessional colleagues to run the COVID Rapid Response Team, a COVID-19 screening and vaccination program for people in congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, encampments and correctional facilities. In addition, faculty and students performed telephone screening and triage for more than 1,000 UIC/UI Health students and employees with COVID-19 symptoms and supported COVID-19 related clinical research studies, including Phase 3 vaccine clinical trials.

“Our partnership with UI Health is truly a win-win,” Corbridge says. “We’re supporting and amplifying the health system’s mission while also providing new and valuable opportunities for students and faculty.”

Corbridge, Diegel-Vacek and other UIC Nursing faculty will be on hand to accept the New Era Award on Nov. 1 at the AACN Academic Nursing Leadership Conference.