Pandemic becomes once-in-a-lifetime lesson for pharmacy student

Though it has been a difficult year of remote learning, fourth-year pharmacy student Trevor Schultz did not miss a beat. Passionate about working with rural and underserved communities, Schultz teamed up with class of 2009 alumni Tyler Fischback at Confluence Health in Wenatchee to support COVID-19 mass immunization efforts in a largely rural and agricultural area serving the Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington state.

“I’m really passionate about giving back and serving the community. This pandemic needs to be taken seriously. It’s inspiring me because it’s a beacon of hope to end this thing. I want to educate the public about this vaccine and aspire to be a leader in the profession and help us get to the end of this,” said Schultz who hopes to work in rural and medically underserved communities after pharmacy school.

Fourth-year pharmacy student Trevor Schultz (second from right) poses with his mentor, Tyler Fischback (third from right) and the US National Guard at the mass immunization clinic in Wenatchee, Washington.

Schultz began interning at Confluence Health in May 2020. Fischback, Clinical Pharmacy Manager and Residency Program Director for Confluence Health, mentored Schultz, teaching him what most pharmacists don’t see in a lifetime: how to work with the National Guard, law enforcement, public health departments, and community volunteers to roll out a mass immunization clinic. Schultz and Fischback dove into their work as Washington state began vaccinating Phase 1a population, which included first responders and high-risk workers. In this initial phase, Schultz and a team of health care workers vaccinated over 3,500 individuals, or roughly 300-400 vaccines per day. Soon after completing Phase 1a of vaccinations, the clinic was told that they would need to work with the National Guard and other community pharmacies to establish a mass vaccination clinic at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.

“Tyler presented this opportunity and I leaned in as much as possible,” said Schultz when his mentor approached him about extending his internship to help with the mass immunization clinic.

Schultz reconstitutes the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Typically a team of 4-6 people are constantly mixing throughout the day. A lead pharmacists oversees the process and the team of nurses, pharmacy technicians and interns.

Working with fellow WSU pharmacy students and nurses, Schultz and the team helped in every step of the process from beginning to end, ramping up vaccinations to 800-900 shots per day. Duties included processing patients, reconstituting the Pfizer vaccines, and ensuring that patients did not experience any immediate side effects from the vaccine.

“I became confident in my ability to run a smaller clinic, but also became overwhelmed with the idea of the mass immunization clinic,” said Schultz of the experience. “I also learned a lot about storage, handling, and processing patients and knowing how to educate patients about these vaccines.”

Now entering his fourth year in pharmacy school, Schultz will spend most of his time with Confluence Health as part of his residency preparation program, along with rotations in acute care where he will split his time between the intensive care unit and emergency room. In addition, Schultz will work in ambulatory care as well as working in community pharmacy in the hospital at the outpatient pharmacy and finish out his final year at Genoa Healthcare in Tacoma, Washington at a psychiatric rotation.

“Two of the most important factors to me in deciding where to do residency is finding somewhere rural so I can continue working with underserved populations and somewhere with ease of access to outdoor recreation. Eventually, I would love to settle into a career in a hospital or clinic setting where I could be working with patients and other health care professionals directly,” said Schultz on future plans following graduation.

As he reflects back on his experience, Schultz’s advice to future and current pharmacy students is “to really lean in and try to learn and help out as much as possible. I think this is an excellent learning opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Anyone who gets involved will just come out better for it.”