Florida XC, T&F Alumni Lead Pandemic Frontlines

Emily VanGelder chose to become a nurse because it was a profession that allowed her to feel like she was making a difference and to help others. She also wanted a job that challenged her mentally and was the opposite of her personality.

Having only been a nurse for a year and a half, VanGelder says that dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite the introduction to the profession. 

VanGelder works as a nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at the North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville. While the majority of the COVID patients are in the ICU, she and other nurses in her unit get floated to the ICU where the COVID patients are to help out.

In her mission to serve others through nursing, Van Gelder unfortunately caught the dreaded virus. She ended up missing over a month of work as she recovered from the virus and met the guidelines that the hospital has set in place to make sure the staff is completely healthy enough to resume working. 

"I was waiting around for my first test result, so there was a lot of uncertainty," she said. "I just had a lot of symptoms that would indicate that I had it. So I was pretty scared, I wasn't sure how bad it would get."

VanGelder admitted that it was hard being out of work for that period because of how fulfilling her job is and that she'd rather be working than sitting at home. But despite being at home, she found different ways to stay active in helping her unit as well as staying up to date in her community.

"I was able to stay involved," she said. "We had a bunch of different townhall meetings that I could sit in and listen to over the phone and I was working on some research for my unit. So I still felt pretty involved."

VanGelder credits her facility on educating her and the staff and making sure that they had the proper supplies that they needed, but admits that working during the pandemic was scary in the beginning. The pandemic has also been mentally challenging for VanGelder and her team, especially trying to balance learning more about the virus and how to keep families of the patients in the loop.

"Mentally it was difficult because there was this feeling of hopelessness I think at the beginning, but I think we're getting better at treating it and adapting to how we get families involved," she said. "..In the beginning I think it was pretty scary because we didn't know too much about it, but as time goes on, we've seen a little bit better outcomes."

VanGelder was a member of the track and cross country team at the Oak Hall School in Gainesville. As an athlete, she loved the discipline of the sport as well as competing. 

"Something that I feel strongly about in running and in nursing is that the success is in the details," she said." "Whether that's just going over labs, different medications or interactions... success is in the details for nursing and in running."

VanGelder has used the support of her friends, family and her coworkers to help her mentally decompress from the stress of the pandemic. The resiliency of her staff during the trying times stands out to her. 

"I work around a bunch of badass people," she said. "I'm not surprised because I knew that they were so resilient, but the way people have stepped up and embraced it - no one has run away from it, we've tackled it head on and I think that's amazing. My team in particular, I love working with them because we all have that same attitude and we support each other through it."

She also feels that the pandemic made everyone who works at her hospital closer.

"I feel like it's actually really brought our hospital together as a team - I feel very much apart of North Florida," she said. "At times it's been scary, there's been small victories that have been great and then really sad situations. We're all just trying to group together and do the best we can to take care of these patients because they are so acute and families aren't able to visit them due to trying to prevent the spread of the virus, so we're doing our best to keep the families involved as well."