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Former U gymnast turned nurse shares her story

Mary Beth Lofgren discusses her interest in health care, the influence of the U on her as a nurse and the impact of COVID-19.

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One of Utah gymnastics’ heroes in health care, Mary Beth Lofgren, shares her story about why she was interested in the field, how her time at Utah molded her into the nurse she has become, the impact COVID-19 has had on our lives, and more. Lofgren, a gymnast from 2011-14, is a registered nurse in the Spine Program at Primary Children’s Hospital (PCH), where she has been in the role for about one year. She previously worked as a nurse in the NICU and in Same Day Surgery, both at PCH in Salt Lake City.

At what point did you decide that this career path was what you wanted to do?

My mother was a nurse, retired now, but continues to maintain her nursing license. So, I had a great example of a nurse in my life. I watched my mom enjoy her career as a nurse, mainly in labor and delivery, while I was growing up. I always thought her job sounded fun! I know that may be a weird word to describe a job, but it truly looked that way from my perspective. Because of this, there was really nothing else I saw myself doing as far as a career. It looked like so much more than just a job. It became clear to me that it was having the ability to help people in their most vulnerable moments from birth to death and everything in between. I didn’t realize the profoundness of that ability and what an honor it was until I actually became a nurse.

Why did you become a nurse?

I became a nurse because I wanted to help people. I wanted to know I was making a difference even if it was a small one. There is something so humbling about holding a fresh newborn baby, being the first reassuring face a patient sees after surgery, or even just sharing a smile with a family member to let them know they aren’t alone. Those are all moments and reasons why I became a nurse.

What do you enjoy the most about working at Primary Children’s Hospital?

The kids. When people first hear that I work at a children’s hospital the reaction is usually, “Oh, that must be so sad seeing sick kids.” My reply back is usually, “No it’s great!” Kids are tougher and more resilient than most grown-ups give them credit for. There’s a lot to learn from those tiny humans. And they are hilarious. At what other job is it normal and expected to talk about Spider-Man, Barbies, and Paw Patrol on a regular basis?

How has COVID-19 affected some of your peers?

COVID-19 has not directly affected my work, my work has just taken a slightly different form. I currently work in the Spine Program, which is a clinic for children who have problems with their back, mainly things like scoliosis and compression fractures. COVID-19 has delayed some of our clinic visits and pushed back some of our surgeries, but overall we have been lucky that our jobs can, for the most part, continue on. Primary Children’s as a whole has not seen the huge impacts like our adult hospitals in Utah have, which is also very fortunate.

I am currently in graduate school to become a nurse practitioner and many of my classmates are working on the frontlines of this pandemic as nurses. They are seeing the worst of the worst of this thing. Many are now being required to take extra on-call shifts just to make sure there are enough nurses to cover all the patients, COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Just because there is a pandemic doesn’t mean that the rest of the world’s medical problems stop. These frontline nurses are everything. They are sacrificing so much, putting their own health on the line, even risking their families’ health, and so much more to make sure that we are taken care of. You won’t find a group of people who are braver, tougher, and stronger than them.I have heard it said a couple of times that the frontline is becoming everyone’s last line of defense against COVID-19. They are the ones making a difference.

What words of encouragement and advice would you give to people at home navigating through this time?

This is hard!!! Canceled vacations and not being able to see friends and family is not what I had in mind for this spring. Believe me, I get it! BUT WE’VE GOT THIS! I think one thing I have learned over the last several weeks that has helped me is to be grateful for what we have and the things that we can do right now. Here is a list to help you get started: FaceTime, McDonald’s McFlurries, warm spring walks (at least six feet away from other people, of course), gymnastics meet reruns and Amazon packages. The healthcare teams are doing all they can to help you, but please help them to help you and STAY HOME! STAY SAFE!

How did going to school at the University of Utah prepare you to become the nurse you are today?

I cannot say enough good things about the U! It’s my home! My dream was always to become a Red Rock and get a degree from the University of Utah. And boy am I glad that dream came true! School at the U taught me a lot of things to help prepare me for my future career. It taught me time management, organization skills, punctuality, professionalism, and leadership values. The U taught me work ethic, responsibility, compassion, and patience. All of those things are what help me take care of patients. Those basic and foundational values have helped me form a career of which I am very proud. I am forever grateful for the U!

What did you learn from your time as a Red Rock that you have carried on throughout your professional career?

Former head coach Greg Marsden had a couple of things he would say on a regular basis. Some of those phrases included: “point your toes”, “hit that handstand”, “don’t move your feet on that landing.” Those were all important lessons to learn during my gymnastics career. Greg also had some phrases that I didn’t realize were so poignant and important until I got into my professional career. The one phrase from Greg that I have leaned on frequently throughout my career as a nurse is, “no matter what happens, the sun will come up tomorrow.” At the time he usually said it to calm our nerves before a big meet or something like that. But I now realize that he meant so much more than that. It now has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Now it means that no matter how hard of a day at the hospital, no matter how difficult life is during this pandemic, the sun is still going to come up tomorrow. There’s hope. There’s always, always hope.

Greg’s goal for his athletes in the gym was to have an undefeated season, win a PAC-12 title or win a National Championship, but most importantly and above all, his main goal for his athletes was for them to come out of the program as strong, independent women. He did that for FOUR DECADES! That’s a lot of strong and independent women. I am grateful that several of them are on our frontlines fighting this pandemic because believe me, those are the people you want on your team.

Former head coach Megan Marsden also taught the Red Rocks some lessons that I have carried into my professional career. The first lesson in Megan’s balance beam textbook was “love the beam and the beam will love you back.” She taught us to love and be passionate about what matters to us. On the team I had to learn to love and be passionate about staying on that balance beam, but now I get to be passionate about helping people.

Megan also taught us tools to get us through beam routines, especially competition routines. She usually helped us find our own “tool” whether that was singing the ABCs, rapping Eminem lyrics, or keywords or phrases to use throughout our routines. During my senior year as a Red Rock my tool was singing Utah Man over and over in my head until my beam routine was over. Megan would even tell me, “I better see your lips moving to Utah Man in the middle of your front aerial flick connection.” She taught us to find something that worked and cling to it. As a nurse, I don’t go around singing Utah Man when I get nervous about something or when I am taking care of an unstable patient (well, at least not all the time). But Megan taught me the value of having tools, whatever they may be, in your back pocket ready to help you get through the hard stuff or the scary stuff, just to keep your head right.

My former assistant coach and current head coach, Tom Farden, taught the Red Rocks maybe the most applicable life lesson for today’s world. If you know Tom you know he has got a sense of humor and he also is the most driven and most dedicated person you’ll ever meet. His pep talks usually went something like this, “Do it for your team, do it for your university, and do it for your country!” Back then the girls and I would just laugh and get ready to hit our bar set, but now we really do need to do it for our (healthcare) team, our university (and our community), and for our country. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch. Nonetheless, please, do it for your country.