Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's pediatrician honoured for 'heroic response' to COVID-19

Preventing and controlling the spread of infection is all in a day's work for Dr. Natalie Bridger. And then came coronavirus.

Dr. Natalie Bridger recognized with national award for work both before and during pandemic

Dr. Natalie Bridger is Eastern Health's clinical chief of infection prevention and control and associate professor of pediatrics with Memorial University's faculty of medicine. (Submitted by Natalie Bridger)

Preventing and controlling the spread of infection is all in a day's work for Dr. Natalie Bridger. 

In the early weeks of the year, well before COVID-19 commanded complete attention, she was focused on preparing for a pandemic she knew was going to hit North America. 

She's not just a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, but also the clinical chief of infection prevention and control with Eastern Health. She and her team are responsible for ensuring infections don't spread through hospitals in eastern Newfoundland. 

"I guess that put us in a good position to lead the way through COVID, or help lead the way, I should say," said Bridger.

"We were working hard to prepare between January and March. There's no doubt about that. But I wasn't certain that we were going to see cases. And then I guess when we did start seeing cases in March, everything changed." 

I think people in health care are burnt out, but pushing through with hope that there is an end in sight. ​​​- Dr. Natalie Bridger

Bridger shifted from planning for coronavirus cases to response mode, and her actions during the pandemic have now been recognized with a Pediatric Chairs of Canada 2020 COVID Leadership Award.

"I was totally shocked to hear that I'd won to be honest. I guess it's meant a lot because I was nominated by a few of my colleagues at the Janeway. And I think that it caused a lot of reflection for me and for my team about about how far we've come since January," Bridger told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

According to a release from MUN's Faculty of Medicine, Bridger was nominated for going above and beyond to provide safe and high-quality health care. In one example given, she advocated for appropriate personal protective equipment for health-care workers when confronted with dubious deliveries.

She also managed testing and quarantines for health-care workers who were exposed to COVID-19, and "answered texts and emails at all hours with calm professionalism, knowledge and wit."

Bridger is pictured with some words of encouragement at the Janeway Children's Hospital in St. John's. (Submitted by Natalie Bridger)

A stressful part of the job for Bridger has been trying to figure out best practices while battling the misinformation and uninformed opinions found on social and mainstream media.

Saying no to Facebook

"It does make it difficult because a lot of people just don't know who or what to believe. So, honestly, I got off Facebook. I just couldn't handle it anymore. That was probably cowardly, but it became just too overwhelming and stressful to be on social media and to deal with this professionally."

Bridger is feeling optimistic about the prospect of a vaccine for COVID-19, and her stress levels are under control because there hasn't been any evidence of community spread with the recent spate of travel-related cases of coronavirus in the province. 

LISTEN | Natalie Bridger describes how a team effort helped prepare for and manage coronavirus, during an interview with Ramraajh Sharvendiran: 

"We're a little ways away from actually having vaccines in people's arms or legs. And so while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I don't think we can use that as a way to back off from from the extreme amount of discipline that's been shown by Newfoundland and Labrador."

Bridger is quick to point out the team effort involved in keeping people safe during a pandemic — one that can come with a high price for people on the front lines.

"Oh, my goodness, everyone is burnt out. Every single person who works in health care … they're stressed out," she said.

"Health care is complicated at the best of times. And when you add in this extra layer of this unknown illness that you could catch, you could spread, it could do a lot of harm to people in your family. That adds a whole layer of stress that that I've never encountered before. So I think people in health care are burnt out, but pushing through with hope that there is an end in sight." 

Bridger will received the PCC 2020 COVID Leadership Award during a virtual ceremony on Dec. 11.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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