Imagine being the only medically trained person in a town of about 2,100 residents, all of whom have teenage hormones.
Welcome to the world of Rangeview High School nurse Tammy Wollbrinck.
"Working in my own little community can be uplifting, depressing, frightening, rewarding, thrilling, exhausting, exciting, and confusing – but I would have to say that my days are absolutely never boring," Wollbrinck said.
She's excelled in the action-packed environment, too. In 2001, she was presented with the Aurora Public Schools Outstanding Service Award.
"The most rewarding aspect of working at Rangeview High School is the opportunity to work with one of the greatest school faculties to help meet the needs of high school students. The counseling department, administrators, teachers and support staff are all phenomenal.
"The Aurora Public School system is an outstanding district to work with. Fellow nurses at the individual schools are extremely knowledgeable and a great resource. The district itself functions on the principal that basic health and safety needs must be met in order for advanced educational standards to be met. It is extremely rewarding to observe the high caliber of students that graduate yearly from Rangeview High School," Wollbrinck said.
Wollbrinck had always wanted to work in a service profession, but initially wasn't sure she could deal with the emotionally trying aspects of nursing. As a 28-year-old, she was working in corporate accounting when her favorite aunt was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"Five months later, she died at the age of 39. During that horrible time I learned many things. I learned that death occurs whether I was there to witness it or not. I also learned that a good nurse is able to help during sad and scary times by explaining procedures in ways that the doctors are unable to. A nurse’s touch and assurance can make painful and difficult procedures easier to bear.
"In short, I wanted to be there to help others, ease pain, and provide support just as the nurses did for my aunt during those terrible months of her unsuccessful fight against cancer. The next year I enrolled in nursing school."
In 1987, she earned an associate's degree in nursing from Front Range Community College and was selected as a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She then attended Regis University on a Friends of Nursing scholarship and received a bachelor of science degree in nursing, Summa Cum Laude, in 1993. Upongraduation, she was asked to become a member of Sigma Theta Tau International and Kappa Gamma Pi.
Wollbrinck said her nursing career got off to a terrific start, thanks to an inspiring elderly woman she helped during the last three weeks of the associates degree program at Front Range Community College.
"The practice at that time was to send the student nurses for a three-week clinical rotation with a preceptor at the various local hospitals. My rotation was to be on a medical-surgical ward at St. Anthony Central Hospital. I was assigned an extremely ill elderly woman. She was very weak, had no control of her body functions, and was not expected to ever go home from the hospital.
"My first day, I had helped her into a chair, changed her bed, given her a sponge bath, and was basically feeling very good about my accomplishments. As I went to assist her back into bed, she became incontinent of stool, soiling herself, the bed, the chair, and my uniform. She began crying and I wanted to join her.
"Suddenly, she asked me if I had 'faith the size of a mustard seed.' I told her that I guess I did, and that I had always loved that particular parable in the bible. As I cleaned her and the room, I listened to her stories and was taken aback when she told me, 'I know they don't think I am going to live, but I am going to leave this hospital and be at home when my pregnant granddaughter brings me her new baby next month – all I need to have is faith the size of a mustard seed.'"
On Wollbrinck's last day at the hospital, the floor manager summoned her and her preceptor to the woman's room. "She was sitting in a wheelchair with her suitcase beside her, ready to head home. She handed me a small box and told me that she wanted to give me an early graduation present. In the box, I found a chain with a small mustard seed attached. Her wish to me was that no matter how difficult a situation was or how upsetting an assignment I found myself facing, she wanted me to always 'have faith the size of a mustard seed.'"
Early in her career, her nursing certifications resembled a large bowl of alphabet soup, Wollbrinck said.
"I maintained my EMT-B status, and was an ACLS instructor, CPR instructor-trainer, BTLS instructor, PALS instructor, and TNCC nurse," she said. Years working in emergency rooms and as an EMS instructor instilled Wollbrinck with respect and understanding for firefighters, police officers, and EMS providers who work around the clock to keep streets and communities safe.
After stints in an internal medicine clinic and as an EMT instructor, Wollbrinck moved into school nursing at Adams County District 12. She worked as an itinerary nurse, traveling between four elementary schools, two charter schools, a middle school and occasional coverage of a high school.
In 1998, she was excited to hear about the open registered nurse position at Rangeview. "Working at one school and having the opportunity to get to know the students and faculty sounded thrilling. I was delighted when I was offered the position. What I had absolutely no idea about was how intense and challenging the work at a single high school would be," she said.
"I would have to say that the most difficult aspect of school nursing is the feeling of aloneness. There is no other RN or physician to turn to and ask, 'What do you think – how would you handle this?'"
School nurses often have to make tough decisions and use their intuition. Wollbrinck offers the scenario of the student with a stomachache – is it because of the test he forgot to study for today, or could he really have a severe virus or even appendicitis?
"Sometimes I go home feeling really good about my day, and sometimes I go home still searching for ways to help the student, and with a feeling of frustration," she said.
Despite the challenges, Wollbrinck's memorable and rewarding nursing moments now come on a continuous basis. Among them are treating and cheering up ill students, asthmatic athletes, diabetic students, those at risk for or suffering from eating disorders, and calling in paramedics just in time to save a student in respiratory arrest from an overdose.
She loves her job, and her enthusiasm is apparent. "I plan to continue my educational growth, as nursing provides a never-ending need to learn and discover new procedures, methods, and research."