COVID-19 and PA Students: Adapting to Emergency and Lending a Hand

Familiar with Facing Uncertainty, This PA Student Still Pushes Forward

May 22, 2020

By Shannon Watson, RN, PA-S

Shannon Watson, RN, PA-S

As a second year PA student at University of California (UC) Davis, adapting to emergencies is not a new feat for my cohort. In the fall of our didactic year (November 2018), the largest and deadliest wildfire in California history broke out an hour away from us. Our school was forced to shut down and we transitioned lectures, homework, and exams to online for a short time. It was during one of the most difficult units (cardiology) of our year and we had to learn to be flexible and committed to our success in the program. Adapting to emergencies is not new for me as an individual either. I’ve been a disaster response nurse on an as-needed basis with the American Red Cross since 2017. I have worked numerous incidents, from floods to wildfires. Although the current situation is unlike anything I’ve experienced, I’m confident that healthcare professionals (PAs especially) will rise to the occasion, if not soar above it.

Moving forward with rotations
Most of a second-year student’s time is spent at clinical, with a few on-campus intensives per quarter to take OSCEs, exams, leadership courses, etc. I had just completed two months of primary care and finished exams for our winter quarter when we went on spring break (March 14). The California shelter-in-place mandate came out shortly after and we were anxiously awaiting a decision on what would happen to our second-year cohort. Our program made the decision to move forward with rotations if the student was comfortable and the rotation site allowed.

We are still completing rotations. Many outpatient visits have transitioned to telehealth, as was the case for my latest behavioral health rotation. We all take it day-by-day, understanding that sudden changes are still expected. Many sites cancelled while others remained open to taking us, but our own UC Davis sites have helped tremendously with placements. Our medical community understands the challenges we are facing in order to graduate and is doing its best to help while also prioritizing safety. We serve many surrounding rural communities in rotations too, and they have been grateful for the student help.

Facing uncertainty
I think it’s important to be honest right now and own that it’s an uncomfortable situation all around. I feel uneasy. Overnight, we abandoned normalcy, and nobody has a road map for this. From the student perspective, I’m worried about how long this will continue, how many advanced practice providers will be postponed from entering the workforce, and what will happen to the students who are left in limbo.

It’s been helpful to still be in my rotation; I feel like I’m able to be useful and help alleviate the burden on other staff and providers. I’m in clinicals full time Monday-Friday, but I thought it was important to help at least one day out of my weekends – so last week I signed up under my RN/PHN license for a local disaster team. The governor of CA posted about this opportunity on covid19.ca.gov/healthcorps.

This crisis has highlighted one of the initial reasons I chose this profession: PAs are born and bred to be successful generalists. Across the country, we are watching urgent care PAs seamlessly helping in ERs and surgical PAs picking up the slack in ICU’s. The examples go on, but PAs are rising to an occasion they have been trained for all along and showing how valuable and unique their skill sets are. It makes me proud to be on the PA path.

Other student perspectives
COVID-19 and PA Students: Joe Hwang Connects with His Cohort
COVID-19 and PA Students: How the Pandemic Affected Me
PA Program Organizes Fundraiser to Help Frontline Providers

Shannon Watson is a second year PA student at University of California, Davis (class of 2020).