EL PASO, Texas — Dozens of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso students journeyed to the Tornillo Port of Entry in July to join the county’s effort to vaccinate both sides of the border.
Students from the Hunt School of Nursing administered thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to maquiladora workers from Ciudad Juárez at the port of entry.
“I hope each vaccine is one step closer to us getting back to normal,” said third-semester nursing student Abigail Balbuena. “Vaccinating our neighbors in Juárez helps everyone in El Paso because of how we’re intertwined. We’re one community with a lot of love on both sides.”
For several weeks, El Paso County led an effort to vaccinate 30,000 maquiladora workers. On July 15, Hunt School of Nursing students helped El Paso County Emergency Services and constables administer 4,200 shots. Also volunteering regularly were individuals from the Foster School of Medicine and TTUHSC El Paso’s El Paso Health Education Awareness Team (EP-HEAT), led by Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., an assistant professor of immunology and microbiology.
“TTUHSC El Paso provided amazing assistance to us today. The 25 students who came out without any hesitation helped us tremendously,” said Emergency Services District No. 2 Chief Rogelio Esparza.
Providing that type of help is common for TTUHSC El Paso medical, nursing, and biomedical sciences students. Every year, they provide over 19,000 service hours to the Borderland community.
“This is where we take what we learn in the classroom and in simulations and apply it to patient care,” said Rhonda Sparr, D.N.P., R.N., clinical professor at the Hunt School of Nursing. “Perhaps the most important lesson taught is the moral obligation to help the community, and that includes both sides of the border.”
Victor Lopez, a third-semester student, said part of the reason he chose the Hunt School of Nursing was because he knew he would get to help the community.
“We’re honored to vaccinate people on both sides of the border. We also want to remind our neighbors in Juárez how much we care about them,” said Lopez, who joined his classmates before sunrise to travel to Tornillo, a small border town in El Paso County east of El Paso city limits.
The US/Mexico/Canada Strategic Alliance helped organize workers on the Mexican side of the border. Cecilia Ochoa Levine, the organization’s president, said it was exciting to see El Paso’s future health care heroes in action.
“We saw the students come into the trenches with us. The buses come in quickly, but they’re vaccinating the workers without any problems,” Levine said.
TTUHSC El Paso is one of only two health sciences centers designated as Title V Hispanic-Serving Institutions – and the only one on the U.S.-Mexico border. Its mission is to prepare the next generation of health care heroes, with 48% of 2020-21 students identifying as Hispanic. The university also serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved.
Before the establishment of the Hunt School of Nursing, El Paso County faced a 40% shortage of nurses when compared to the national average. As of 2020, the Hunt School of Nursing has educated more than 800 nursing students with nearly 90% staying to practice in the region.
The Foster School of Medicine has seen a similar impact, producing over 600 medical graduates since it opened in 2009. As a result, El Paso County has seen a 57% increase in physicians, a direct result of having a four-year medical school in the area.
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