By Dale Steinke

Edited by Nancy Waddell

Nine students from the University of Washington School of Nursing spent this fall in their community health nursing clinical rotation helping Snohomish County kids and adults be more prepared for emergencies.

In the process, they built up critical knowledge they’ll need once they become nurses.

“When students only work in a hospital at a bedside, they don’t get a full picture,” said Johanna Hulick, Clinical Assistant Professor at the UW nursing program in Seattle. “The Red Cross is doing all kinds of very important community nursing work in the world, the country and the region. I think their work right now is especially relevant because there have been so many natural disasters recently. I think it’s been very powerful for the students to see the impact the Red Cross has on communities.”


The students have been supported by Red Cross volunteer Jessie Shertzer, a retired Registered Psychiatric Nurse and former chemical dependency counselor. Today, she’s the Red Cross disaster mental health lead for the county as well as a Red Cross instructor. She teaches first aid, a class on the fundamentals of volunteering at temporary shelters set up by the Red Cross, and a course called “psychological first aid,” which teaches participants how to help others improve their mental health after a traumatic event.

The UW partners with many community organizations throughout the Greater King County and Snohomish County area. Students on these rotations also pick up important knowledge about factors that influence a community’s health, including social and economic factors.

“What I want them to know,” Shertzer said, “is the reality of what community health is today, and that’s addiction and mental health. It’s going to impact them for the rest of their careers.”

Besides learning about those issues, they heard stories about Shertzer’s Red Cross deployments after natural disasters, as well as the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, mass shootings where she offered grief counseling.

The students also helped put on a blood drive and capped off their rotation by preparing with her to bring important information to the community. When they were ready, they shared emergency preparedness knowledge to 3rd through 5th graders at a local YMCA, a Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts of America, as well as to residents of the Broadway Plaza Apartments.

It gave the students practice and greater confidence in being nurse educators.

“A major part of nursing is education,” Shertzer said. “We’re taught to teach people the how, what and why of what we’re doing to keep them healthy. It’s important for nurses to be good communicators.”


Did it sink in for the students?

“Learning and implementing education, prevention and preparedness not only related to disasters, but many other aspects of public health, is an important skill and applicable in any setting,” answered Elizabeth Gebretsadik. She, Sydney Alvarez and Andee Vaughan worked with seniors and adults with disabilities at Broadway Plaza to be more aware and prepared.

“With all the disasters we hear about in the news these days, it becomes more real that a disaster could happen to you or someone you know,” Alvarez added. “I am taking away the importance of being prepared and having a plan. This will help me in my nursing career as I interact with patients and their families and educate them on how to be safe and healthy.”

At the YMCA, Amy H. Kwon was one of three students teaching disaster preparedness and first aid to children enrolled in an after-school program. With the tools provided by the Pillowcase Project sponsored by Disney, the students learned basic first aid and what to do in case of a home fire or an earthquake. The students also created their own emergency supply kits they packed into personalized pillowcases.

It was a memorable experience for her.

“I enjoyed working with the young students and seeing how excited they were to learn. I also enjoyed learning and hearing stories about the deployments by the Red Cross.”


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