An emergency room is the pulse of any hospital, where situations happen fast and staff must be prepared to go from one patient to several critically wounded in a matter of minutes. Wickenburg Hospital’s emergency room (ER) Nursing Supervisor Tammy Olk has the character to deal with each situation as it arises.
In the profession for 30 years and certified as an emergency room nurse, Olk acknowledged Wickenburg’s ER as one of the finest she’s experienced in her career. There’s not a lot we haven’t seen, said Olk, and the level of control is incredible. The level of our ER nursing staff is probably right among the top of any hospital in the U.S.
Tammy describes an average day in the ER as controlled chaos, and acknowledged that even patients in a rural area like Wickenburg can be challenging. “You never know what’s going to come in the door,” she explained. “Our problem here is that people are tough. They’ll come in in the back of a pickup or car – not an ambulance, and you don’t realize how sick they are until you see how quickly they’re deteriorating.”
Olk explained the biggest challenge facing someone new to the ER is becoming proficient in assessing patients according to their intensity of need. “The importance of assessing and time management is something I tell new graduates,” said Olk. “You’ve got to learn it or be overwhelmed. You have to take the sickest and work back. You’re constantly reassessing, and you’re not just dealing with the patient, but their family and friends.”
Born and raised in Phillipsburg, Mont., Olk learned doctoring at a young age, but not with people. With a strong love for animals, Olk took care of her pets. But it wasn’t until she had attended college and was working as a dental assistant that she realized a desire to go into nursing. “I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to be a nurse. I thought I wanted to be a dental hygienist,” said Olk, explaining that while working as a dental assistant she decided she wanted to work with patients on a deeper level. She attended the University of Arizona, earning a bachelor of science in nursing (RSN) degree, and continued her education to become certified in emergency nursing.
Beginning her career in a tiny one-room emergency room/OB with one aide and one doctor, Olk learned to do it all. Including, delivering a couple of babies. She’s honed her skill in small and big hospitals across the country. The largest facilities her career took her were in Las Vegas and Philadelphia, and Olk admitted she was a little intimidated at first. “I was scared,” she grinned, “but I was so busy it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things.”
It was her hobby of team roping that brought her to Arizona. A header (the part of the team that ropes the steer’s head), she settled in Aguila in 2009 from Butte, Mont., and has enjoyed the fact she can rope year around.
Not raised in a ranching family, Olk managed to ride a horse at the age of 2 and was hooked. When she was 12 she got her own horse, and for 30 years was involved in riding, including dressage. In a career that involves life and death on a daily basis, Olk finds riding and roping therapeutic. “It’s a tension reliever,” she said. “If I have a bad day, all I have to do is be around my horses and dogs and I’m fine.” In addition to roping, Olk is a second degree black belt from the International Dae Myung Moodo Federation through Grand Master Jae Ho Park. Practicing her martial art is another form of tension relief.
Olk also enjoys her relationship with her daughter Marni, who recently relocated to Charleston, S.C. Living in the area for the last six years, Olk feels at home, and appreciates the quality of staff she works with, co-workers who have become friends.
“Our emergency room nurses average 29.4 years in experience,” she stated. “You just don’t find that; people tend to move on. Older nurses want to retire and younger ones want the adrenalin, but our staff has chosen to stay. That speaks of the hospital.” As demanding as it is to be an ER nurse, Olk finds her career satisfying. “What I enjoy most is watching somebody get better before my eyes, in particular a child,” said Olk. “It’s a real relief when a parent hands you a child that doesn’t look good at all and an hour later you have them laughing. That’s my thing, watching them get better.”
“I do like my job or I would have left it a long time ago,” she grinned. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
The Wickenburg Sun http://www.wickenburgsun.com/ by Patti Jares, Special Reporter to the Sun