Tenzing Dakpa: On the Other Side of the Needle


Sophie Naylor, Staff Writer

After months of trying to obtain doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Colgate has partnered with the Community Memorial Hospital (CMH) to set up a distribution center in the Hall of Presidents in the James C. Colgate Student Union. Since its opening, the Hall of Presidents distribution center has vaccinated almost 200 students, staff, faculty and Hamilton community members. 

The excitement of finally getting vaccinated can blind patients to the people greeting them, helping them fill out paperwork or even administering their vaccine, but the people on the other side of the needle lead their own lives outside of the distribution centers—and many of them are Colgate students.

Tenzing Dakpa, a senior concentrating in molecular biology on the pre-med track, is one of the students Colgate hired to administer vaccines. A certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Dakpa has been a volunteer at the Southern Madison County Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SOMAC) for almost three years. 

I was able to receive valuable experience in a healthcare setting because of SOMAC and have met some amazing people from this program, so I am glad that I had joined when I did,” Dakpa said. 

Dakpa got his EMT certification the summer after his first year at Colgate so that he could join SOMAC the fall semester of his sophomore year. He’s unsure of his exact career path within the medical field, but the “spontaneous, fast-paced environment” of SOMAC has piqued his interest in emergency medicine. 

Though his longest commitment at Colgate has been with SOMAC, Dakpa is an involved member of the community. He’s a member of the Men’s Volleyball Club as well as Brothers, a student organization dedicated to promoting awareness of issues that affect students of color at Colgate and other universities. 

Dakpa hopes to become a physician in the future, and he feels that his experiences working at the vaccine distribution center are preparing him to work with patients in the future. 

“I think we had a mix of a lot of different types of people, predominantly students because we have a lot more Colgate students… interested than other people, but we also had town folks, we had staff members, professors, we’ve had… people from all different walks of life that kind of came together because they wanted to get their vaccine. Some more nervous, others were more excited, but it was a nice mix of people.” 

He already understands the importance of being able to connect with patients and uses his experiences getting vaccinated to connect with the people he’s working with. 

“When people get vaccinated, one of the things that they’re thinking about is whether the person vaccinating them [has] themselves gotten vaccinated or not… they want people to understand what they’re going through, understand that they’re also getting nervous… I think it’s a good thing that I did get vaccinated because…  a lot of people may feel excited about getting a vaccine, but they’re also nervous because this is something that’s turned into a huge deal since we’re in a pandemic right now.” 

The medical field appeals to Dakpa because of the unique opportunities it provides to help others. He became an EMT because “the culture and helping other people was something that really impressed [him],” and working at the vaccine distribution center on campus and volunteering through SOMAC have inspired him to pursue a career as an emergency medicine physician. 

“My long-term goal is to be a physician. What type of physician… it’s kind of up in the air. I’m kind of interested in [becoming an] emergency medicine physician now that I’m working as an EMT, and I like the spontaneity and the fast-paced environment that comes with being an EMT.”

Before going to medical school, Dakpa plans to take two gap years and work as a research technician at a lab in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where he “will be studying mechanisms of chromosome replication in eukaryotic cells by using Saccharomyces cerevisiae (budding yeast) as a model.” 

As Dakpa finishes his senior year amidst a global pandemic and prepares for the busy future ahead of him, he has a message for the Colgate community—get vaccinated. 

“Together we can all get vaccinated and together at that point we will reach herd immunity, and that is something that a lot of scientists are working towards. I’m not an expert in this field by any means, but CDC guidelines and other experts are encouraging this process of getting vaccinated. And I think we should listen to those experts because if they don’t know it, then I guess we won’t either.”