Waunakee nurse reflects on career providing medical disaster relief

Patricia Scanlin serves as a member of the Wisconsin National Disaster Medical Assistance Team.
Published: May. 12, 2021 at 4:08 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For over 35 years, Patricia Scanlin has worked as a nurse. She started her career in the Intensive Care Unit before quickly finding her passion working in the emergency room.

“I think I always look for the challenge,” Scanlin said. “When I was an ER nurse, I was very happy. Then, I heard about flight nursing and I was like ‘I think I want to give that a shot.’”

Taking to the skies as a MedFlight nurse wasn’t enough for Scanlin though. She soon found her way to serving as a member of the Wisconsin National Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

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“If I saw a position or a task that was challenging, I took it on because I wanted to be a better nurse and better at what I do,” said Scanlin.

Her deployments included trips to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and Florida following Hurricane Irma.

“When you deploy for a hurricane, they usually try to get you there before the hurricane hits,” said Scanlin.

She says she spent many nights getting to know the disaster evacuees and trying to provide any level of comfort.

“I try to put myself in their shoes and I try to relate to them as best I can,” said Scanlin. “They don’t know if they’re going to come home to a house. There’s just so much that goes through their minds that you can’t keep up with it and what they’re going through.”

Most recently, Scanlin and the WDMAT team was sent to Washington, D.C. to help with COVID testing and vaccination clinics.

She says the pandemic has elevated the importance of emergency nursing.

“We kind of signed up for it,” she said. “That’s kind of part of emergency medicine and disaster medicine is that you don’t know what you’re going to be exposed to.”

She says nurses often perform work that goes beyond the bedside.

“We act as social workers and case managers,” said Scanlin. “You have to be a lot of things.”

Scanlin says her years spent as a nurse is more of a vocation than a career.

While she’s retiring from UW-Health, Scanlin says she’s not getting out of the industry all together. She hopes to work per diem at a local hospital and continue to serve on the Wisconsin National Diaster Medical Assistance Team.

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