Allison Cosgrove (BSN 2017), a stroke RN at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, said working in the middle of the hardest-hit city in the United States was the most challenging thing she has ever done. Every day new patients were coming into the hospital, new protocols were to be followed and new nurses were training to become ICU nurses in the smallest amount of time. The days blurred together and exhaustion hit hard. However, this experience helped Cosgrove grow as a nurse and made her develop strong relationships with her colleagues and team. As she prepares to begin her graduate program as an adult primary care nurse practitioner, this experience has helped her immensely.
“This experience has really made me appreciate being a nurse,” Cosgrove said. “I feel as though nurses and respiratory therapists are the ones who are really in the rooms the most and taking care of our patient’s firsthand. The doctors have shown such appreciation for us, more so than I’ve ever seen before because they know we are the ones exposing ourselves and really being there to do the hands-on tasks and support the patients and their families. Sometimes being a nurse can make you feel under-appreciated, but this experience has really turned that around for me and I am so proud to be a nurse. Our COVID-19 cases are way down and work is returning back to normal with our normal patient population. The city still claps for us every night at 7 p.m., which always puts a smile on my face and helps me feel appreciated. Some of our long-term COVID-19 patients are finally at the point of being ready for rehab. They’ve been through such a long journey and it’s nice to see them finally showing significant improvement. NYC has taken this situation very seriously and it’s so nice to see people continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing as things start opening up here.”
Valerie Berman (BSN 2019) is an RN on an adult medical/surgical/telemetry unit at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, which was quickly converted into a COVID-19 telemetry unit. She is also in a nurse residency program and will be starting the DNP family nurse practitioner program at the UF College of Nursing this fall. While she knew for most of her life that she wanted to work in health care, she could have never imagined she would be starting out as a new nurse in the middle of a global pandemic. But she said her nursing education helped prepare her to fight COVID-19 courageously and with confidence.
“Days after finishing orientation and finally working without a preceptor, our manager called us into a meeting to announce our unit was being converted into a COVID-19 telemetry floor. I was terrified at first about bringing the disease home to my family, but I gradually became more confident as I got used to wearing full PPE and working with new routines. Because the challenges presented by COVID-19 are new to everyone, regardless of their level of experience, it has given us all unique opportunities to be innovative and inquisitive, both the young nurses and seasoned physicians alike. I’m so happy to help make this world better while learning so much every day! I’d like to give a special shout out to the College of Nursing for preparing me so well for everything, even the unimaginable. Gator Nurses won’t back down!”
Jane Blaue (BSN 1988) retired in June of 2018 after working in labor and delivery for 30 years. After enjoying some time being retired, she quickly realized she missed her nursing career and in February, she began a new position as an RN, teaching pregnant high school students at her local health department in Brevard County. However, things quickly shifted in March when COVID-19 hit the world hard. Since schools were closed, the school health program quickly transitioned to testing for COVID-19 and answering the COVID-19 hotline.
“I was prepared for the front lines of COVID-19 testing based on my many years of working in labor and delivery. Community health is quite different from hospital work, but I am enjoying the challenge and appreciate the ability to educate our local community about COVID-19 testing via phone calls on our hotline and through our drive-through swabbing stations. Drive-through testing in this Florida heat for hours has been a challenge, especially when the potential of positive cases are literally at your fingertips. Stay safe, Gator Nurses, and know that what we have learned is that we will get through this pandemic together!”
Kayla Elliott, rising BSN senior, proved that when faced with a challenge, one can still persevere and make the most out of any learning situation. As an international student from the Cayman Islands, she quickly returned home in the middle of the spring semester after UF transitioned to online learning in the face of COVID-19. Having interned at the George Town Hospital during her college breaks, Elliott reached out to see if there were any volunteer or employment opportunities available at the hospital. Since then, she has been working with a mobile swabbing team in an administrative capacity, directing traffic, verifying patient identification and organizing test kits at the community sites.
“I am very grateful to the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority for allowing me the opportunity to help out during this time. I am learning so much every day in the community and in the office from all of the amazing health care professionals. Nursing school has helped me gain confidence in interacting and communicating within a clinical setting. Some people arrive at the swabbing site so nervous they momentarily forget their names. I have been able to pick up on that and help to explain what the procedure entails and alleviate some of their nerves before they get their tests done. This has also been important as I have learned in school to ask questions in the clinical setting in order to learn more about a situation.”
After alumna Shaila Bahl (BSN 2011) and her husband both recovered from COVID-19, she knew that she had to help others affected by this disease. Being able to provide a personal understanding of COVID-19 helped make her a good candidate to serve on the front lines. After reaching out to a contact from college who was looking for volunteers in New York, she offered to go and was on a plane the next day. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, she was willing to do whatever was needed, and ended up caring for adult patients in the MICU at Metropolitan Hospital Center for three weeks. Since then she has returned to Florida and safely quarantined prior to returning to her full-time job in Miami.
“At Metropolitan Hospital Center, I saw loss, heartache and devastation. People fighting for their lives with incredible strength and determination. It’s like nothing I could have ever imagined. I also saw complete strangers from around the country come together to perform miracles, heroic measures and lifesaving treatments. The compassion of the health care workers around me was contagious. When I felt defeated, they lifted me up and encouraged me to keep going.”
College of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Lisa L. Ferguson, DNP, MSN, BSN, answered the call to help UF Health with COVID-19 testing in The Villages®, which began offering large-scale testing to residents of the region at the end of March. In this coordinated response to the coronavirus public health emergency, the initial efforts involved a team of about 25 volunteer UF Health medical professionals together with The Villages Health personnel to evaluate 400 to 500 people a day for a week who preregistered for evaluations and testing. They were assessed for symptoms, travel and exposure history and tested if they met clinical criteria. Depending on the severity of their illness, they were potentially further evaluated on-site or at a UF Health facility or sent home to self-quarantine while awaiting test results. Volunteering has provided new opportunities for her professionally, opened up new interactions with medical and physician assistant students and has given her an outlook on how important it is to keep pushing forward through these unprecedented times.
“Just seeing the participants who came out, who either were sick or weren’t, and were willing to undergo an uncomfortable procedure to help us understand this virus and its transmission better was enough to continue through the small discomforts we dealt with. Volunteering has also allowed me to demonstrate to students how medicine and nursing can work side by side as professionals without any ‘turf’ barriers present. I hope that they take that experience with them into their professional practices and help eliminate practice barriers currently facing nurse practitioners in our nation. Personally, it was quite a satisfying experience!”
Despite the uncertainty Gator Nursing students faced with classes moving online and students being asked to return home for the remainder of the semester, Anna Fabry (BSN 2020), proved she was not letting COVID-19 stop her from moving forward in her educational pursuit right before her graduation this spring. When UF Health put a call out for volunteers to help with COVID-19 testing in The Villages®, she stepped right up to the challenge.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, many students, including myself, have felt somewhat helpless and as though much of our future is out of our control. By going to The Villages®, I felt that I am not only able to put my education to use, but that I am making a difference by being a part of something bigger. Instead of sitting at home and feeling sad about the situation, I wanted to go out and do something about it! It was exciting to be gaining this unique experience that I will carry with me the rest of my life.”
Stephanie Weinsier (BSN 1993, DNP 2011) wears many hats in the world of nursing. She works full time as an occupational health nurse practitioner and wellness center manager at American Express in Sunrise, Florida. She also works per diem in two of her local emergency departments as an advanced practice nurse. When not at work, she serves as the chair for the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Clinical Practice Committee and president for the Florida chapter. Now, more than ever, life and work are on full speed while battling COVID-19. She is working tirelessly to ensure her employees, community and those across the U.S. are safe and protected right now.
“This pandemic is something to experience. It is a true test of our physical and mental resilience as health care workers, as well as parents, community members and friends. It is not something I’ve witnessed in my 27 years of nursing practice. It is trying for nurses, especially new nurses, because there is uncertainty and it challenges you individually. It can be lonely — family may not support your ethical duty to step up and do the job because they love us and may not want us in harm’s way. As they say, nurses run toward the fire/accident/pandemic, not away from it! I am concerned for my colleagues, my patients, my family and my friends. But I know we must be smart, stick with the protocols and emerging scientific data, remain calm, sleep well and stay resilient to make an impact.”
One Gator Nurse contributing to the COVID-19 response at the federal level is Joseph Bertulfo (BSN 1993). He is the director of the Occupational Health and Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. OHSO is part of an agency-wide effort to support communities across the country respond to COVID-19. Bertulfo and OHSO staff have helped prepare over 1,000 CDC staff to safely deploy across the United States and abroad.
“It is an honor to work with so many dedicated safety and public health professionals who work every day to help keep our colleagues safe in the field. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride when I see my agency’s contributions actively protecting the health of local communities.”