Bridget Pfaff reflects on work with Gundersen Health System amid pandemic
Bridget Pfaff, ’97 & ’07, clinical operations director for La Crosse’s Gundersen Health System, adjusted in countless ways, personally and professionally, during COVID-19. She partnered with colleagues to create a COVID-19 dashboard tracking testing, positivity rates and immunization trends in the La Crosse area.
Posted 11:53 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2000
Bridget Pfaff has seen it all over her 20-plus years in healthcare.
Seasonal conditions such as Lyme disease. Suspicious packages at the height of the 2001 anthrax scare. The rise and fall of H1N1 and other viral outbreaks. And now, a global pandemic.
“There is a group of us who reflect on March 7, 2020 — the first day we had a suspect patient — and remember how all of our days have been impacted since then," says Pfaff, ’97 & ’07, clinical operations director for Gundersen Health System in La Crosse. “I think the better question is: ‘How hasn’t life changed?’”
Pfaff has adjusted in countless ways, personally and professionally, during COVID-19.
She switched up her hands-off leadership style and embraced a more active role within Gundersen’s Infection Control team.
She procured personal protective equipment for essential workers on the frontline.
And she partnered with colleagues to create a COVID-19 dashboard tracking testing, positivity rates and immunization trends in the La Crosse area.
Pfaff also set more boundaries regarding her workload and availability.
“I had always had pride in the fact that I returned emails in a timely fashion and, no matter what role I was in, I answered my own phone and managed my own calendar,” she explains. “In 2020, for the first time, I found myself saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ when people emailed, called or sent me a text.
“Waiting for the next surprise from COVID-19 was exhausting,” Pfaff continues. “In healthcare, we are seeing the impact of that in terms of burnout among those on the frontline.”
Pfaff originally planned on a career in marketing. But she was drawn to healthcare after getting a part-time pharmacy job during college.
She soon learned that some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement for students going into healthcare careers.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, she began her first job with Franciscan Skemp Medical Center in La Crosse, part of Mayo Clinic Health System. She had just $8,000 of student debt thanks to the tuition investment program in her bachelor’s and master’s program.
And, thanks to her UWL education and experiences, she had all the tools she needed to launch her career in infection control.
In fact, many UWL microbiology and public health students have gone on to successful careers in that field, including some Pfaff has studied or worked with:
- Leah Bomesberger, ’19, Centers for Disease Control
- Megan Buechel, ’20, Gundersen
- Josalyn (Lester) Curl, ’01 Houston Methodist
- Michelle Schmitz, ’96, UW Health
I think the better question is: ‘How hasn’t life changed?'
“I am so blessed to have had the support from the UWL community to shape the professional I am today,” Pfaff says. Her mentors include current and former professors Robert Burns, Allen Nelson, Marc Rott, Daniel Sutherland, Thomas Volk, Michael Winfrey and Luanne Wolfgram. “I was never the smartest student in any of my classes, but I have had many blessings in my career based upon the foundation provided by these incredible faculty.”
Pfaff loves working in healthcare for the same reason she enjoyed her time at UWL: the people.
“I have had the opportunity to work with amazing people through my years there,” she says. “As I reflect on my years at Gundersen, I am very humbled to have this amazing opportunity to be a voice with hospital and community leadership when it comes to the pandemic response.”