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A Spirit of Volunteer Service Through Health Services

January 7, 2021

As a registered nurse, Civil Air Patrol member Major Karen Shaw was about to take the last assignment of her 18-month journey as a travel nurse when the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the United States. The assignment brought her to Queens, New York placing her at the forefront of the medical response to the coronavirus.  

During the nine weeks that Major Shaw spent in New York, she served in several COVID-19 intensive care units which provided many challenges for health care providers dealing with the novel coronavirus. These challenges provided several opportunities allowing her to adapt and overcome the changing scenarios in the various COVID-19 intensive care units. She shared that, though the assignment was difficult, she felt more educated, more open to what her strengths were, and came to know more clearly that her faith is the source of her strength as a result of the experience.  

Her desire to become a nurse 12 years ago was motivated by her love of seeing people recover and knowing that she had played a role in the process. It was this love of serving others that brought her into this field of service.  

“I feel like I’ve been called to be a servant. The health care field is one of service. You are serving the public. You are serving people.”  

Major Shaw’s desire to serve others carries over to her position in the Civil Air Patrol. She became a senior member in 2013 in order to join her son on his own journey as a CAP cadet but she quickly found a way to utilize her skill set as a health services officer.  She stays highly involved in the Civil Air Patrol’s Virginia Wing, working with cadets contemplating careers in the health service fields as well as assisting senior members desiring to serve as health services officers. She has supported seven encampments, which are a week-long immersion into all facets of the cadet program for cadets, where she paid close attention to the health of nearly 500 attendees and currently serves as the wing’s health services officer.  

Due to her unique experiences as a travel nurse during the pandemic, Major Shaw is a vital component of Virginia Wing’s remobilization team. Her role on the health care side assists in making sure the risks are assessed and managed well.   

“Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, health services has come to the forefront and been recognized for what health service officers can offer to CAP. We’ve been called upon more than ever to advise members on health and disease prevention.”  

When asked what motivates her to continue in both her professional life as a registered nurse and in CAP as a health services officer she shared;  

“The CAP core values apply to every job. Respect, excellence in everything you do, volunteer service, and integrity. These things apply to every part of your life and are interchangeable between my professional life and CAP. They have strengthened each other.”  

While the pandemic may have altered the way units are meeting and activities are occurring, the mission is still very present. Our units need to stay safe and in operation in order to serve our communities, state, and nation.   

“We are still needed to do the real-world missions that we’ve been trained to do.”   

Out of an abundance of caution, health services officers like Major Shaw are assisting as guidelines are set forth that allow our organization to meet the needs of our communities.   

When asked what long-term impact the current COVID-19 pandemic may have for CAP, Major Shaw had this to say:   

“We’ve learned so much about infection prevention that I believe will be carried forward into what we do all of the time. We are more acutely aware of how germs spread and how to keep other people safe in various situations.”  

Indeed, with open eyes to the realities of this virus, the organization will continue to seek new ways to adapt and move ahead in the spirit of volunteer service thanks to caring individuals like Major Karen Shaw.  

For More Information:

1st Lt Heather Heppding, CAP,

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