Washington State University nursing students in Yakima have tested hundreds of people for COVID-19 in the past few weeks in a new partnership with Medical Teams International.

Students are testing guest farmworkers in the region as well as working at a drive-through test site.

Medical Teams International, a faith-based nonprofit headquartered in Oregon, has a contract with the Washington Department of Health to conduct COVID-19 testing in Central Washington.

It’s a collaboration that’s helping everyone, said Lisa Vickers, Yakima campus director of the WSU College of Nursing.

Medical Teams International is a new clinical partner at a time when some longtime partners have decided against hosting students during the pandemic, she said.

For students, “this is pure public health,” Vickers said. “They feel like they’re really doing something to help the community.”

And the students are helping Medical Teams International bring widespread testing to an area that was a COVID‑19 hotspot this summer.

Medical Teams International is repurposing some of the organization’s mobile dental clinics for COVID‑19 testing, said Cindy Breilh, executive director of U.S. programs.

Yakima nursing student administering COVID-19 test.
Yakima nursing student administering COVID-19 test.

It has performed more than 10,000 COVID‑19 tests in the state so far.

Valeria Gonzalez, one of the WSU nursing students taking part, said students are educated on infection control, are provided full PPE and perform the tests outdoors, so they all feel safe.

There have been no positive COVID‑19 cases among Medical Teams International’s volunteers and staff, Breilh said.

The experience is giving nursing students new perspectives on health equity, their community and themselves, say Vickers and Anna Fulton, assistant professor at the WSU College of Nursing in Yakima.

Gonzalez, for example, said she appreciates that testing is open to anyone, whether they have symptoms or medical insurance.

Vickers said students are seeing how guest farmworkers live while they’re in the region. And as they work alongside organizations distributing food and other assistance, students are learning how a community helps its less fortunate members.

“It inspires me that our students genuinely feel a calling to serve,” Vickers said. “We’re nurses, that’s what we do, and our students really understand that.”