by Jason P. Smith
Community health is a term many people have heard, but not everyone is completely sure what it’s all about. It is a loaded term that incorporates many different areas of health and wellness in a wide range of age groups.
One person who is very familiar with the term is Robin Kolble, nurse health educator of the Student Wellness Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Kolble earned her BSN from Loretto Heights College in Denver in 1977 and started her career in nursing at Rose Medical Center. She started on a medical floor and then moved to telemetry and the post open heart unit, where she worked for several years.
It was at Rose that Kolble got her first chance to see what community health work is all about. "Working with cardiac patients at Rose Medical Center was my first glimpse of how rewarding educating people about health issues can be," she said. "This education often took place after a near death experience for the patient and his/her family, so they were very receptive."
In 1982, Kolble moved to Boulder and began work at the Center for People with Disabilities. "I cared mostly for students at CU who needed daily physical assistance to be here at school, students who were in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy, Kolble said. "I really enjoyed working with the students and the health issues that this age group faces – not only issues people in wheelchairs face, but all the students.
"Educating the college students at the Center for People with Disabilities on health issues was a challenge – not only did they have the everyday concerns of how do I get out of bed and get dressed, but also had concerns around nutrition, sex, sleep and depression."
After the birth of her daughter, Kolble took a brief break from nursing, but returned as the manager of the 55+ Program at the Boulder County Health Department. "The 55+ program was a mobile program that moved from site to site, assessing the health of older adults," she said. "We held clinics at various senior centers, doing blood pressures, vision screenings, and medication assessments. A huge component of these clinics was health education."
Kolble then worked in Boulder Community Hospital’s employee health department, where she did physical exams and health education for all the employees of the hospital. She then moved on to the occupational health department, where she was the program coordinator and the case manager, responsible for several hundred area businesses’ employees. She worked to address worker’s compensation injuries and education regarding injury prevention.
"Most employers provided safety information to their employees but not health information in general that would make them a healthier, happier and fitter employee – less likely to get injured in the first place," Kolble said. "I felt this was an overlooked area that I would like to be able to do more in."
In 1999, Kolble saw an ad in the paper for a "wellness nurse" and said it looked like the perfect fit. "The description was so me, that I answered it and here I am, working somewhere that incorporates a great deal of my education and knowledge," she said. "Working with the age group 18-24 is always inspiring."
As the coordinator of the Student Wellness Program, Kolble supervises several student coordinators who help supervise volunteers for the program. This program is a peer education health outreach program with about 25 active volunteers.
"Our goal is to educate and care for the campus community," Kolble said. "This means identifying areas of health needs as voiced by the students, and then developing programming and giving these presentations to as many students as we can in as many creative ways as we can."
The program Kolble oversees in Boulder incorporates many different areas of education into its educational outreach. The program deals extensively with many health-related issues, including healthy eating habits for students who may not have much money; issues of body image; smoking and cessation programs; stress in college; the positive effects of sleep; eating disorders and colds. The program also incorporates different programs for students to help fellow students, as many students do not always come to the clinic themselves for help.
"We offer nutrition health information tables and presentations, and we distribute ‘cold care kits’ and water bottles with health information on them," Kolble said. "We also have a de-stress event called the Haven, where we give chair massages and do aromatherapy."
With her 26 years of nursing experience, Kolble said she has the medical background she needs to best figure out how to translate medical knowledge into terms that the general population can understand and apply. "Working as a nurse I have learned compassion, patience, kindness – miracles do happen by just reaching out."
Kolble said she enjoys working with students and continually is amazed by their creativity, energy and knowledge. "The students’ ability to develop programs, initiate events and educate their peers is such a magnificent process that I am in a continued state of awe."