Kate Bergen, BS, NRP, MICP, FPC, is a paramedic from New Jersey. She is also an artist who stumbled onto a wonderful artistic creation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspired by the works of Norman Rockwell and J. Howard Miller, Bergen took issues with the struggles of COVID-19 for frontline workers, especially women, and picked up her paintbrush. She took her inspirations and crossed the well-known images of “Rosie the Riveter” and the iconic Uncle Sam “I Want You” image and created the artistic series called “Modern Day Rosies.”
Bergen found a belonging with creating this art, much like she found belonging when she started her career in EMS. When she was in college, she mentioned to her mother she wanted to become a doctor. Before jumping into that, her mother suggested she become an EMT to see if she liked working with patients. With that advice, she became an EMT while she was a senior. When she joined the ranks, she finally felt like she belonged to something. Bergen then went on to become a paramedic — and to this day feels that EMS is right for her.
Bergen relates as a paramedic she is used to certain stressors of the job, but not the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bergen noticed the way she processed stress changed during this time. She was staring depression and fear in the face daily. She was, like many of her peers, afraid of bringing this disease home to her family. She felt as though she was getting up and dressing for a war that all were ill-prepared for. While she feels that there was training in place, the initial lack of PPE and there being no real end in sight was a major cause of concern and stress. This is when she turned to painting.
Bergen has been painting for a long time, however she never painted people. The “Modern Day Rosies” series first painting was inspired by a picture that she took of herself in a respirator. Her thought was the public didn’t really have an idea what it is like to be on this side of the battle with the pandemic and her goal was to create a PSA-style poster to share. Her goal with this poster was to help the public understand the importance of staying home to help flatten the curve so frontline employees could do their work. This all started back in March of 2020 – a time when Bergen felt helpless despite doing a job every day where she was in fact helping others. This painting became a way for Bergen to use her voice through art.
All of Bergen’s subjects are women. Her goal is not only to highlight frontline workers, but women on the frontline. Her first painting, inspired by her respirator selfie, became popular in the EMS community. With this success, she decided to continue with more paintings. Her next subject was an emergency room nurse named Le. Bergen has known Le for a few years and knew her to be a single mom, an excellent nurse and extremely compassionate to her patients. Le shared with Bergen she was experiencing discrimination do the COVID being called the “Chinese Virus.” That inspired Bergen to life up Le and to use art to educate people.
Her painting of Le showed everyone is in the fight against COVID-19, despite others’ prejudices. With the stresses of the pandemic, Bergen noticed this was sometimes forgotten and saw this as an opportunity to illustrate it. The reaction to this painting was one she was not prepared for. There was an outpouring of love and compassion from people — which was not just over the art, but for Le herself. This is when Bergen decided she wanted to use her voice to celebrate all women on the front lines, regardless of their professions. Bergen underscores this by knowing that working in this pandemic is demanding work by itself, and unfortunately people still take frontline workers for granted.
Bergen feels people putting themselves in harm’s way for the good of their communities and they need to celebrated. Bergen went into her own community and found women from multiple professions to use for her paintings. At the time of this writing, she has completed more than 18 paintings and still has another 30 women yet to paint. She has even done a painting of therapy dogs that has been at the hospital everyday with their handler, the head of the security department.
It is Bergen’s hope these paintings will not only bring light to the female frontline workers, but also hopes it will serve as a mode of therapy to those of the frontlines as well, as it has been exactly that for her.