Growing up in Montana, Heidi Kramer, a nurse in Denver Health’s Poison Center, always thought she would go into elementary education. Because she had always been a caregiver and nurturer, she thought that would be natural fit. Today, she helps save lives and educates at the same time.
Although she didn’t intend to become a nurse and field hundreds of calls a day, she couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
"Being a nurse or going into medicine never occurred to me," she said. "I just always knew I was going to be an elementary school teacher, but I’m really happy with where I am now."
After her first year of majoring in elementary education in Montana, Kramer decided she needed to "see more of the world."
"I moved to New York and was a nanny for four years for two boys," she said. "During that time, the boys started school and the family didn’t need me as much. So, I moved out of their home and moved in with a cardiologist and a neurosurgeon."
The doctors spent most of their time in the city, but on weekends would come out to their other house where Kramer stayed. "When they came out on the weekends we would go out and have a lot of fun – it was like living in a fantasy world."
It was in this fantasy world, however, that Kramer would make a decision to change her career path. "It was through our dinner conversations and just hearing about their weeks and about their patient care and the surgeries they had going on that really intrigued me," Kramer said. "I had always been really good in biology and science, so they encouraged me to go into medicine. That’s what sparked my interest in medicine."
Missing the West, Kramer decided to head back this way to finish school. "I applied at CU-Boulder and majored in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. I worked in a fruit fly lab working with the sterilization of fruit flies – I just knew that was my whole goal. I wanted to go into medicine, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity at that point."
After finishing up at CU-Boulder, Kramer decided to go into the nursing doctorate program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "I was really interested in that program, because it was geared towards people who had a degree in a field other than nursing."
Before going into the doctorate program, Kramer had already looked at all of her options and decided she liked the philosophy of nursing the best. "A doctor’s philosophy is to cure the patient, but nursing fit in with my natural abilities as a caregiver and nurturer because the whole philosophy of nursing is caring for the patient — it was a perfect fit.
"I always wanted to work in elementary education, but I needed more of a challenge. I needed someone who was in dire need of my assistance – the immediacy of an emergency. I wanted to give someone the most bang for their buck, so to say, or have the most impact I could, so when my research ended and I started looking around, the Poison Center seemed a good fit."
Giving patients the most bang for their buck is no exaggeration when it comes to working at the Poison Center, which takes calls from Hawaii, Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Las Vegas. Vegas alone can be quite a handful by itself, according to Kramer. Vegas is also number three on the government’s list of major terrorist targets, so the Center has to be prepared for something of that magnitude as well.
"At the Poison Center, I help hundreds of people a day," she said. "The summer is our high time, so right now we can take up to 700 calls a day. We’re expected to take six or eight calls an hour, which is a call every 10 minutes – it gets pretty intense. I can help those people right away. It’s not instant gratification, but it comes pretty quick."
According to Kramer, with just five or six people on each shift, it can be pretty crazy sometimes, but she enjoys the people she works with. "It’s just amazing to be around so many experts and interact with them on a daily basis," she said. "I’m really proud to a part of that team. I have so much to learn, and I’ve always loved school, so this is the perfect position for me."
Working at several hospitals through a temporary agency and while doing her research for her doctorate, Kramer decided the Poison Center would be the best fit for her.
"I’m learning every day, and I feel challenged," Kramer said. "And, there’s always something new, so I’m not going to get bored. I also feel like I can really grow at the Poison Center, like I’m making it my home. I’m being very active in making it a positive place to work. For me, I feel the Poison Center is a place where I can stay."
When asked about her future plans, Kramer simply said she wanted to stay at the Center and work in different areas. "I see a great potential for growth there – I can go into research, I can do many things," she said. "Because I see a future there for myself, I want to make it a good place to work. I feel like I have so many opportunities there.
"It’s not for everyone, but for me it’s an awesome match."