This story includes descriptions of domestic abuse and suicidal thoughts that may be difficult for some readers.
It had gotten to the point that, in order to talk to her family on the phone, Emily had to lock herself in the bathroom with the shower running. She hoped the noise muffled her voice so her boyfriend wouldn’t hear.
He was always nearby. When Emily wasn’t working, he was with her. When his car broke down, he took hers — another excuse to drop her off and pick her up from work on his terms. After work, they did whatever he wanted to do.
“I didn’t know how to be a person anymore. He took away that autonomy,” said Emily, 23, who requested her name be changed for this story.
Throughout 2022, Emily’s boyfriend escalated his abuse. What started as controlling her movements and schedule soon led to emotional abuse and threats of physical harm to Emily and her family.
Soon Emily had stopped sleeping. When she did, she was plagued by nightmares. Her anxiety and depression worsened.
Emily’s mother stepped in, urging her daughter to seek help. The two paid a visit to UC Davis Health’s Rocklin clinic.
Emily wasn’t sure what to expect. She figured a doctor would just put her on antidepressants and send her on her way.
A moment of concern leads to a deep connection
They met nurse practitioner Shanna Naylor in a small exam room. Emily shared her symptoms and the details of her partner’s abuse. How she had already left him twice and gone back twice. She was seeking the strength to make a permanent breakup.
After her mother stepped out of the room, Naylor spoke of a similar experience she had during a past relationship in her early twenties. She validated Emily’s feelings, even the feeling of “not wanting to exist anymore.”
The moment was a turning point for Emily. Most other people had merely tried to reassure her or cheer her up when she shared her darkest thoughts. “She reassured me in a different way that everything would be okay,” said Emily.
Over the next hour, she learned that Naylor had not only recovered from her past trauma, she’d gotten married, finished school, and earned her advanced nursing degree. Through Naylor’s story, Emily found hope.
“That’s when things started to look up for me,” she said.
After the appointment, she started taking medication, left her abuser for the third and final time, and moved in with her parents. She focused on therapy, recovery and eventually her own path toward becoming a nurse.
“I knew that if we just got her away from her significant other, she would thrive,” said Naylor.
In May of 2023, eight months after she sought clinical help, Emily moved to Southern California to attend nursing school. She expects to graduate in August 2025.
Once she becomes a nurse, she hopes to provide that same level of empathy and care as her own nurse practitioner, whether it’s making time for kindness or simply applying a Band-Aid.
“There’s no issue that’s too small,” she said. “My end goal is just to help people.”
Care that grows and lasts
Over a year after Emily sought mental health treatment, her father visited the Rocklin clinic for his own appointment. As he waited, a nurse practitioner approached. Naylor introduced herself and asked how Emily was doing. He was shocked she remembered their family and took the time to check in with him.
“It was very touching,” he said. “You would have thought my daughter was her daughter. She was very kind, compassionate and caring.”
Naylor knows from personal experience how impactful a patient-provider relationship can be. Growing up, her mother was repeatedly hospitalized for several chronic conditions. “It really makes a difference when [the care team] recognizes you as a person — a mother, a daughter, or a sister. That you're not just a chief complaint,” she said.
It really makes a difference when [the care team] recognizes you as a person — a mother, a daughter, or a sister. That you're not just a chief complaint."
Establishing and maintaining trust can be even more critical when a patient is struggling with mental health or the victim of abuse, explains Naylor. She tries to block more time around appointments when she feels a patient would benefit from a deeper connection.
These days, Emily still has the occasional appointment with Naylor. The knowledge that she continues to have an ally, someone in her corner, even from across the state, is a tremendous comfort. Even when she sees a different physician, she always asks if they know nurse practitioner Naylor. “Because, honestly, she saved my life.”