by Jason P. Smith
Mette Riis, RN, BSN, MSW, at Denver Health said she always wanted to go into nursing, but what area of nursing she would ultimately choose took some time to figure out.
"I was really lucky that I picked a profession where I could do lots of things and excel," she said.
Starting out as a candy striper when she was 15, Riis then took a job as a nurse’s aid.
"I’ve done a lot of things in nursing," she said. "I was a nurse for 10 years in psychiatry and then in critical care. Then I was in corporate health care for 15 years."
Going right from high school to college in Vermont, Riis then moved out to Colorado and finished earning her BSN from Loretta Heights, which is now Regis. She also has a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
"My entire nursing career has been in Colorado – more than 30 years in nursing," she said.
When she started her nursing career, Riis worked on the infection control unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver (before it merged with Presbyterian).
"That was separate from the whole hospital because it was isolation and everyone was creeped out by it," she said.
After that, she worked as a critical care practitioner at St. Anthony’s Central in the SICU, followed by five years working in mental health and psychiatry.
A big portion of her career was in corporate health care, which eventually lead Riis, in a roundabout kind of way, to the kind of work she does now.
"What I did in corporate health care was I worked for an employees benefits consulting firm that managed things like health benefits for corporations that were self funded," she said. "I also helped develop their health care management division – they needed a nurse to start a case management program.
"What we did was we took people who had chronic illnesses and got them out of the hospital and into alternative care. That is something I’d wanted to do since I worked in mental health. I ended up just being in the right place at the right time."
After working her way up to being the vice president of the company she worked for and having been there 15 years, her career took a dramatic change. "The company was bought out by a larger corporation and I was basically laid off – that was the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me," she said.
"When you’re the vice president of a company and you’re doing well it’s hard to leave, but as PPOs and HMOs came in it became very bottom line oriented. So, I was really ready to leave, so it worked out well."
Riis decided to get out of corporate entirely and do more humanitarian non-profit kind of work.
"I took some time off and did some soul searching," she said. "I got an opportunity to work with refugees as a nurse, and I hadn’t worked as a nurse in 15 years. So, I was giving shots and had a ball.
"I’m really interested in different cultures, so it was great for me. I did psychological evaluations for torture and trauma, and also did a lot of education surrounding that issue."
Also doing physical screening and immunizations, Riis said she met a wide variety of people, but after 9/11 the funding for that program was cut and, being the newest employee, Riis was laid off yet again.
"I was looking for something else and found they needed someone here in the emerging infectious diseases," she said. "I work with the immunization program but I also do stuff with the bioterrorism grant.
"It’s really been a gas because I’ve seen a lot of families from the refugee program that I haven’t seen in a long time at the immunization clinic. The kids are older and speaking English great – it’s really fun."
Keeping things a little different each day and having a variety of tasks and people to work with has kept Riis quite happy with her new career.
"I think one of the things that’s neat about the clinic here is that it’s such a diverse group of people," she said. "We see people from all different backgrounds and cultures.
"I have a job with many different elements at work at the same time," Riis said. "I work with communicable diseases, outbreak investigations and a lot of work with the bioterrorism grant, doing emergency preparedness work."
Having this many elements of her job is something many people would find tough, but Riis said that’s what she likes.
"It’s fun," she said. "I like having all this stuff going on because I don’t get bored. I’m the kind of person who likes to have the opportunity to be creative, so it’s nice for me."
One of the big draws for Riis with her job is the simple fact that she his helping people.
"We’re really making a difference and helping people and the community get control of illnesses and stay healthy," she said. "Colorado is not the best at getting kids immunized and that’s why I think Denver Public Health is a perfect venue for that."
The education piece of her job is the part she said she might enjoy the most.
"The education part is the most fun for me," she said. "I enjoy educating people and trying to make a difference in terms of the way they’re lifestyles can change, such as just washing their hands regularly. I like the clientele we serve here and it’s meaningful. For me to stay at a job it has to be meaningful – I have to feel like I’m providing a service that makes a difference."