Nursing DNP Student Steps Up To Serve Our Local Community During COVID-19

April Watkins

Like a lot of individuals in her profession, UT Austin School of Nursing DNP student April Watkins has used her expertise to aid the world’s most vulnerable populations. As a clinical nurse specialist in cardiology and internal medicine, she has organized medical relief missions around the globe in places like Brazil, Haiti and Puerto Rico. While there, she and her team of ten to twelve health care workers delivered primary care services on the forefront of many crises. However, she was not expecting a crisis like COVID-19 to find her right in her own backyard.

“I was actually working with Seton Heart Institute to set up a nurse led multidisciplinary atrial fibrillation clinic,” Said April Watkins, CNS. “But three weeks ago all of that changed. I received word from the hospital that I was being redeployed to the COVID-19 response team. I would administer nasopharyngeal COVID 19 tests at the outdoor, drive through testing site in Kyle.” 

Upon the initial shock of switching specialties and being on the frontline of a highly infectious disease, April sought out resources. “At first I was very nervous. I read everything I could get my hands on and even spoke to a friend of mine from Wuhan, China. The more I learned the more comfortable I got.”

Then April says she realized she’s been preparing for an emergency like this for years. Having lost track of the number of aid trips she has served (she thinks it's around 13) and diagnosing everything from malaria to typhoid fever in Haiti, she understands she is one of the best equipped clinicians to perform this work. “When I was first notified of the position on the COVID-19 response team I was very concerned about the personal risk. Then I thought about the work I have done in Haiti and Brazil and thought, ‘Oh gosh, I can do this!’”

Addressing COVID-19 in Central Texas, April says there is still a lot more work to be done. Utilizing her medical, supply chain know-how, April obtained hundreds of cloth and clinical grade personal protection masks. She distributed them among local businesses that did not have the same resources. “I emailed the store and asked for permission to facilitate a fundraiser to supply them with masks. They were very appreciative, but declined because they had just ordered a shipment. Then a friend of mine informed me that employees were rationing those masks. So I supplemented the masks they provided.”

However, April was still struck by the need for supplies among Austin’s most at-risk populations. “I raise a lot of money for my work in Haiti. People are used to me asking them for money. They know I am a reliable source. So instead of an aid trip we raised about a thousand dollars for homeless youth and refugee services.”

April continues to assist where she can through the crisis, unsure of when she will be able to return full time to her clinic. But according to her, she is happy that she has the skills and experience necessary to help her hometown. “To take this work back to help your own community is such a gift.”

May 6, 2020