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Alumni on health care front lines of COVID-19 fight

May 14, 2020

Medical professionals have adjusted to a wave of challenges as they work on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. Personal protective equipment (PPE) obscures people’s faces except for the eyes. Patients aren't able to see their loved ones in person. And communication is done digitally.

These are some of the realities that University of North Georgia (UNG) alumni who work in hospitals have faced.

Miranda Cantrell is an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse who spends three 12-hour shifts per week taking care of COVID-19 patients at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Braselton. She earned a degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice from UNG in 2010 before earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 2017.

"The instructors in UNG's nursing program provided me with hands-on knowledge that allows me to adapt to each situation I encounter as a nurse," Cantrell said. "During this COVID-19 pandemic, my educational experience from UNG has been invaluable."

Wilson Pierce, '17, who earned a BSN from UNG, works as a nurse in the emergency room at NGMC Gainesville. He was in self-quarantine for nine days in March because he was exposed to COVID-19, but he tested negative. He said NGMC has worked hard to keep COVID-19 patients separate from other patients to limit the disease's spread.

Pierce's experiences inside and outside the classroom at UNG have come in handy in such a turbulent time.

"The simulation lab, as well as my experience working for Recreational Sports as an intramural official and eventually a supervisor provided leadership opportunities and chances to learn on the fly," Pierce said. "These experiences at UNG prepared me to serve in such a unique situation, and I'm thankful for my time as a student there."

Pierce appreciates the outpouring of supplies and encouragement the medical field has received.

"We've had a really good response, and the community has been very helpful," Pierce said. "It's been nice to see the community come together and support the health care and emergency workers."

"It's been very difficult," said Angela Roach, '16, who earned an associate degree in clinical health sciences from UNG and works as a paramedic in the emergency room at NGMC Gainesville. "We're not used to being scared. We're scared of the unknown. We're scared of bringing the virus home to our families."

Cantrell said it is difficult for families who only see their loved ones on FaceTime at specified times each day. Cantrell's daughter, who will turn 7 this month, expressed concerns about her work. Cantrell has leaned on her faith to navigate caring for COVID-19 patients and communicate with her family about the risks.

"She knows what's happening," Cantrell said. "Mommy takes care of those people who are sick and could die."

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