Physician assistant, nursing students respond to call for help

Shannon Watson
Michael Pang, left, and Shannon Watson, two first-year physician assistant students at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, volunteer alongside their classmates at clinic shelters in Chico to care for wild fire evacuees.

When classes were closed due to unhealthy air quality in the Sacramento region last week, several physician assistant and nursing students used that time to volunteer in clinic shelters supporting evacuees and victims of the deadly Camp Fire.

From collecting and delivering goods to spending hours in shelter clinics, these future health care providers spent countless hours serving the communities in any way they could. One first-year physician assistant student, Shannon Watson, a registered nurse, long-time disaster relief volunteer and former Butte County resident, quickly organized her classmates to volunteer at a shelter clinic, caring for elderly, frail evacuees there.

“To me, this is what our school is all about,” Watson says. “Our mission is service to rural communities, the underserved and leadership. To me, doing this, is all of that.”

Michael Pang, a first-year physician assistant student who answered Watson’s call for help, says he jumped at the opportunity to serve a community in need.

“This is a good reminder of why we want to be providers,” Pang said. “This is about serving our community and meeting its needs.”

The students immediately saw the implications of a health crisis in their community rather than a potential inconvenience to themselves, says Elizabeth Rice, associate dean for clinical education and practice at the School of Nursing.

"I think that too often leadership is seen as a title. But, I want our students to really understand what they have done, that is true leadership,” Rice says. “They stepped up, saw a need and went out and provided care to people who are in crisis.”

Throughout the School of Nursing, UC Davis Health and beyond, students, faculty and staff contributed their time, collected donations or otherwise contributed to the disaster relief efforts that are ongoing in Northern California.

In her own words: Shannon Watson describes her work in a shelter clinic

“I'm a registered nurse and public health nurse in the first year of the physician assistant program. Butte County was my home for the past few years before I moved here to attend school. That community raised me into the nurse I am today and I have deep roots there. Many of my old nursing colleagues barely escaped and lost everything in the process. I've been a disaster relief charge nurse volunteer for the past two years. 

I got the call to respond last Thursday when the fire broke out and a few of my old colleagues started up a medical shelter clinic there to meet the needs Red Cross couldn't. It's called the East Ave Church Shelter Clinic now. Shelters overflowing, medical needs rampant, and 50,000 evacuees made for a type of chaos like I've never seen before (this is my seventh major disaster I've responded to). I've been in Sacramento during the days and commute up to Chico in the shelters to help on the night shifts. There are many elderly, medically fragile patients up there. 

Desperate for help and more medical volunteers, I reached out to my cohort, the Class of 2020, and posted a sign-up link to the clinic. The response was overwhelming. Within hours I had numerous people signed up and students carpooling to help out up there. So far, I have been able to coordinate around 15 people to sign up and go help. 

I can't tell you how heartbroken I am for the devastation this has caused, but simultaneously how full my heart is knowing I have colleagues here who will drop everything to go care for our neighbors in the north state. Their families have even reached out and donated.

It's been a whirlwind, but I loved rising to the occasion to be a leader in this situation. Holding this leadership responsibility, I felt compelled to show you just how incredible our cohort is. This is what they decided to do with their days off school when it was cancelled. Aside from being great future providers, they are really just amazing people.”