Heather Dobrynski Followed her Heart and is now Serving her Community
To meet Heather, you would think she was an extrovert. Bright, articulate, energetic, beautiful. After all, while she was at Carrington College studying for her Associate Degree in Nursing with four kids at home as well, she took on the additional role of class President for the Student Council. Underneath all that, she sees herself as an introvert. At her core, it is her compassionate heart that drives her, one that can sit with a dying patient and listen, and care enough to let light into their darkness. This is the story of a compassionate mother willing to delay her studies and career until her children were older. When she could return years later to earn her degree and work as a Nurse, she experienced the last part of the first phase of the COVID pandemic. She cared for and witnessed the deaths of many elderly patients with comorbidities. But it was there the introvert inside her took note: and eventually, she understood and followed her heart and found her true calling, in Hospice – caring for the dying – as her career. This is her story.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Tucson and Vail, Arizona. I went to Sabino High School and right after that began pursuing a career as a PE teacher. But at the time they were starting to take PE out of the curriculum. I didn’t want to be a classroom teacher, so I decided it wasn’t for me. I got married at 19 and had a daughter at 21. I was going to school at the time to learn Elementary Education, but once my daughter was born, I really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Two more children came along after that, and I eventually worked for six years as a librarian for their K-8 school. In those years of raising my three daughters, I went through a divorce; eventually, I married a wonderful man with two daughters of his own. So now I am the mother of five incredible girls!
So how did you decide to study Nursing?
My first exposure was witnessing the nurses when my first daughter was born. It made a big impression on me; I thought maybe I’d be a labor and delivery nurse. Then seven years later, my dad had an accident with a spinal cord injury. I saw a lot more through the surgeries, observing the nursing and physical therapy and that kind of thing. I also had some friends who were nurses, so I picked their brains and eventually decided that’s what I wanted to pursue.
How did you decide to study at Carrington College?
I did a little research and it really was the one that could most easily accommodate my needs. I felt I barely got into that cohort, I mean, I was #24 of a class of 24! I didn’t know anyone going there either, but the first day I ran into someone in the lobby, a girl who had grown up with my brother who was in my class.
Was the workload hard?
It was challenging but doable. My personal challenge was the shift from being available to my family, which had been my number one priority, to putting my studies at Carrington ahead of that. But my new situation was so well received by my family, parents, siblings, kids, husband, and even the people of Carrington. I felt I always had a voice that was heard and respected at Carrington. Even when I brought up a problem, they were accommodating and supportive.
The folks at Carrington say you were a natural leader. You say you are an introvert. What can you say about that?
Even though I see myself as an introvert, the experience of being a mother of five children for over half my life brought out the Mama Bear in me, so taking a leadership position felt more natural! When they asked if I would participate in the student council, at first I was concerned I would not be able to balance it with the rest of my life. But then I realized there were people there who had full-time jobs, were going through divorces, had lost a loved one, were pregnant, and were even going through cancer treatments. I thought I had a lesser load than they did; beyond the responsibilities of family, my life was not as challenged. So when we gathered as a group and everyone hesitated to become Class President, I volunteered.
What was the most challenging part of Carrington?
Definitely managing time. And also going through Carrington during the COVID pandemic. We doubted our ability to go out in the world because the pandemic made us lose a semester of clinical work which really prepares you. Carrington was really challenged to find us clinical sites, but they got crafty. I give them huge credit for becoming innovative. I landed in an ICU during COVID – for my first exposure to a clinical setting! It was crazy. I saw the burnout. I worked through the end of the first wave where the patients were mostly older with comorbidities. After about ten months, I decided to step away in October 2021, when they started treating more of the young 30 and 40-year-olds with long-term COVID symptoms. The Delta variant changed the demographic of serious COVID infection.
What kind of job did you want after Carrington?
I thought my dream job would be to work in labor and delivery. But I had an experience while I was a student that changed my mind. I shadowed a friend one day who worked in Hospice. I think I fell in love then with a piece of that work; the intimate time you share with a patient. I realized I could give to patients what I think is at the heart of what nurses are meant to do, which is to have compassion as well as to care. These are people who are facing death. Some of them feel helpless and hopeless. I can let a peephole of light into their darkness.
I feel honored that they allow me to provide support in this most intimate and difficult time.
Where are you working now?
I’m an RN Case Manager at the Agape Hospice in Tucson. I’ve been working there since January 18th. It’s an independent company – they come into care homes or private homes. Most of the patients have terminal conditions like cancer, severe end-stage dementia, advanced heart failure, Parkinson’s Disease, that kind of thing.
Do you think that the ADN program at Carrington College prepared you for your current job?
Yes. They let us see a lot of what nursing can be. There are so many facets to nursing and Carrington does a good job of letting you see the different roles of nursing.
Is there anyone at Carrington you’d like to mention in gratitude for their support and encouragement?
About twenty of them! There’s not a single staff member I could leave out – to thank them for a specific moment of holding me up when I felt like I wouldn’t make it through.
Do you have any advice for a person thinking of enrolling in the ADN program?
I would say this: know you’re going to have doubts and you’re going to question why you are putting yourself through this. But just continue, keep going, and don’t let that little voice conquer your desire to become a nurse!