Thompson Rivers University

Crisis planning and theatre: Open Learning grad soars in healthcare

June 6, 2018

A big reason Open Learning graduate Agnes Ryzynski made the trek back to Kamloops for convocation was to finally meet her advisors and OL staff who helped her achieve her goals.

Frontline emergency response workers don’t improvise when called to action. Their response is calculated, based on many hours of training and practise. Lives depend on the precision and conviction in choices they make and TRU Open Learning graduate Agnes Ryzynski is using her knowledge of impressionist theatre to educate hospital staff with simulation training.

Ryzynski is a manager in Simulation and Curriculum Development at Canada’s largest trauma centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, where she plans, manages and runs healthcare simulations for hospital staff.

Sunnybrook staff turned extensive crisis training into action on April 23, 2018 when they were dispatched to help victims in the van attack in Toronto. Ten people were killed and 16 injured when a man drove a rental van into pedestrians in a downtown business district.

“We ran a simulation of a code orange, or mass casualty, in the fall. Then we had the tragic rental van incident and some of the staff that had been in the simulation ended up managing the crisis,” she said. “Some of the nurses and physicians who were dispatched gave feedback that it was just like the simulation we ran. Our chief of surgery described how practising this incident with simulations allowed our team to perform so well.”

After a long journey of completing a Bachelor in Health Science, Agnes Ryzynski set foot on TRU’s campus for the first time a day before her convocation ceremony.

Now Ryzynski and her colleagues are building simulations around how to handle an active shooter situation.

“It’s challenging and very stressful because you always want to do the best job that you can for everyone, and often you are working in an unknown world. But, it’s incredibly rewarding to try the best I can to make a horrible situation more manageable. I went into healthcare because I have a passion for helping people,” Ryzynski said.

At the root of it all, Ryzynski is inspired to help people. Her original plan was to pursue a bachelor degree straight out of high school, but life circumstances changed and she decided to begin studies as a respiratory therapist. Learning was constant and from there, she took extra classes to become an anesthesia assistant. Ryzynski’s motivation and momentum continued and she was promoted to coordinator and now, manager of healthcare simulation. She took what started as a black and white and clearly defined role as respiratory therapist and anesthesia assistant, kept pushing herself and climbing the ladder until she achieved a rewarding role in management and education that allows her to impact the lives of many. Ryzynski remains driven and refuses to settle. Getting that bachelor degree was the only option and if that meant squeezing time in whenever possible, that’s exactly what she did.

“I felt I hit a ceiling of how far I could go in my career without a degree. My career moved toward healthcare simulation and to become an educator, a degree was necessary. I love education and felt frustrated that I had so much experience and knowledge, but no formal degree,” she said.

It was that moment ten years ago when she made the decision to pursue a Bachelor in Health Sciences. She needed a distance program and institution that would not only work with her, but for her. As a single mother and a mature learner, with an already established career in healthcare, her needs were specific. After shopping around several other institutions with no success in finding a program that fit her life, a colleague recently graduated from TRU-OL, shared her experience and Ryzynski took it from there.

“From the very beginning, I had the sense that this was a university that is here to build you up and help you recognize that your goals are within reach. Staff take pride in helping people reach success,” she said. “The program was extremely flexible. There was no barrier that was impossible. The stop signs were not really stop signs, they were just guidelines. That’s really what differentiated TRU from other institutions I looked at. There are just so many people working with you.”

Life didn’t stop when Ryzynski enrolled in Open Learning. Personal challenges like her father’s illness and passing, her son’s busy school schedule and demands, being a single parent and working full time was very difficult. But through it all, she managed to make time for her education.

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Ryzynski studied on lunch breaks, after her son went to bed, read while running on the treadmill and wrote papers on weekends. She says it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the flexible structure of Open Learning and the tremendous support she received.

“The spirit and energy of everyone who works here is incredible. No student is just a number. It’s very personal and staff get to know your life and you get to know theirs. Mature learners are not blank slates. We come with a lot of experience, thoughts, knowledge. Everyone I dealt with here, recognized that and respected that,” she said.

Ryzynski has returned to collect her degree at the June 6, 2018 Spring Convocation ceremony, with an underlying mission of finally meeting the staff and advisors who made her journey possible.

“I just want to thank all the staff that have been involved in my learning. The people who played a pivotal role in encouraging me to make the impossible possible were my advisors and PLAR instructors. The reason I wanted to fly here for convocation was to meet them. This degree has changed my life. They have changed my life,” she said.

Ryzynski leaves TRU with a Bachelor of Health Science and is heading to the University of Toronto to pursue a Master of Health Science in Translational Research in the Health Sciences. She’s confidently heading back to post-secondary at the same time as her son and, to her, that makes this next step even more exciting.

“I gained so much confidence through TRU Open Learning. I have the confidence to be a better manager, to motivate staff and to be a better mentor. Most of all, I’ve shown my son that anything is possible. There are so many ways TRU has impacted me and the only way I was able to do this was through Open Learning.”

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