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Colorado nurse Tammy Spencer honored with national teaching award

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AURORA, Colo. — Out of thousands of nurse educators in the country, one of the top five is right here in Colorado. 

Tammy Spencer, DNP, RN, has dedicated most of her life to nursing. She has taught at the University of Colorado College of Nursing for over 30 years. Earlier this year, she was honored with the National League of Nursing’s "Nurse Educator of the Year" award.

“I can think of several times in the past three months that patients have had an impact on me," said Spencer. "I mean, you can’t help but be moved by their stories, and you can’t help but feel such an honor and privilege to be with that person at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives."

Spencer was nominated by her nursing colleagues and friends, Gail Armstrong and Peggy Jenkins.

Armstrong said Spencer has been honored with 18 awards  since she became a faculty member and completed her master’s degree at the University of Colorado College of Nursing in 1989.

“For Tammy to be identified as one of the top five nurse educators in the country is a really, really prestigious award,” Armstrong added.

Armstrong said Spencer's award did not come as a surprise to her colleagues and students. The nursing school's Facebook page was flooded with heartfelt comments congratulating her. 

Spencer, middle, with her father and sister at her graduation.

"Tammy Spencer is one of the absolute best out there! She lives her passion for nursing," one commenter wrote. "I feel blessed to have been one of her students!"

"So well deserved," another person said. "She’s one of my favorite professors I’ve had out of all three of my degrees."

One of Spencer’s students, Barbara Klontz, shared that Spencer’s teaching style is the reason she can understand complicated topics in school.

“Tammy is about a couple of things: kindness, always — she has a really bright personality and lots of energy — but also she really likes being with people and she treats everyone ... like they’re a friend or a close acquaintance, so it’s really easy to be with her,” Klontz said.

Spencer said her passion is teaching.

“My students bring me a lot of joy," she said, "to be in the classroom and to be able to really impact them in such a profound way, to think that you are educating the next generation of nurses."

Spencer said another passion of hers is policy-making; she explained that she was involved with getting emergency orders signed by Governor Jared Polis to “help lessen burdens of clinical hours required for graduation.” Spencer said she did this because it helped “fill the pipeline at a time when nurses were leaving” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that more and more policy is needed around nursing. I think nurses have a huge voice in health care,” Spencer said. “We need to use that voice; we need to feel empowered to use that voice.”

Spencer lives by a mantra written by Virginia Henderson, a renowned nurse, writer and scholar.

“[Henderson] described nursing as, 'nursing is work of the head, work of the heart and work of the hands,'” said Spencer.

Spencer believes one cannot get into nursing without “being passionate.”

“You are handing a newborn for the first time to a mother, you are holding the hand of a patient that’s dying. You can’t help but be moved by that,” Spencer said. “So, that’s what nursing means.”


Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at lindseyford@rmpbs.org.

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