High school job delivers life career for Seneca man

Gage Lankford is a nurse at Mercy Hospital Joplin. Globe | Roger Nomer

At the age of 16, Gage Lankford began his adventure in the medical field.

The Seneca high schooler began working with the Prater Pharmacy Group as a delivery driver and cashier.

Fast forward to this spring, and Lankford — now an orthopedic neurology nurse — has served patients in the COVID-19 unit at Mercy Hospital Joplin.

He has worked with “rule out” patients — those waiting for test results to return, as well as five or six positive patients within the last six weeks.

“It was a little stressful at the beginning, but Mercy (officials) adjusted our patient ratio to three to one,” Lankford said. “It felt good to know I was doing something to help out during (the pandemic).”

Learning the ropes

Lankford began working at the Seneca pharmacy at the urging of his grandmother. The job helped him chart his future in medicine.

“I wanted to be hands-on with the patients,” Lankford said. “I like taking care of people; it gives me satisfaction. Taking care of people is important because I like meaning in my life when I work.”

A 2010 graduate of Seneca High School, Lankford obtained his associate’s degree in nursing from Crowder College. He continued to work at the pharmacy while going to college. He now helps counsel patients with diabetic education at least two days per week.

He worked at the Mercy Hospital in Rogers, Arkansas, before joining the Joplin hospital team in February 2019. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in nursing at Pittsburg State University.

“Nursing is something different almost every day,” Lankford said. “You never know what’s going to happen during a shift. You get to see and talk to so many people. It makes the days better, knowing you can help people who are in a bad spot in life.”

Dealing with COVID

Lankford said working in the pandemic has given him a new appreciation for his colleagues, saying the effort has brought them together in a new way.

“I think it’s made me be more mindful of the things I did everyday — like touch my face — and led me to be mindful of the things I did without realizing I was doing it,” Lankford said. “It’s also taught me to be more content with what I have.”

He describes the support given to nurses by community members as overwhelming.

“(Nursing) has taught me so much about compassion, resilience, time management and improved me as a person,” Lankford said. “When you see people at their worst, you learn not to take life for granted. You learn not to focus on the little things and get upset.”

Ultimately, Lankford said, he’s learned a lot about gratitude during this season of life.

“All of our patients are so incredibly grateful and thankful for what we do for them,” Lankford said. “I hope to see how everyone comes together, especially in the Joplin community to stay home and support local businesses. I hope the community continues to come together to help keep each other afloat.”

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