Despite her two-decade career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Holly Bryan ’99 ’05MS initially never wanted to serve as a police officer.
“I wanted to be a nurse or a vet, something medical,” says the nursing alumna as I sit across from her in her full police garb. “But I needed a job while I was waiting to get into nursing school, so I went to the police academy and here I am.”
There’s a little more to it than that, though.
Bryan’s career-path was, in some ways, seemingly set to involve acts of service. The oldest of five, when her parents divorced, she stepped up and helped provide care for her siblings, taking turns with the others to cook, clean and be a support system.
Bryan’s first job as a teenager was as a nurse’s aide. When she graduated from high school, she joined the military as a combat medic and when she was released, she became an EMT. She had enjoyed her career up to that point, but still envisioned being a nurse.
As she was completing her pre-requisites to start nursing school, she had a few friends who were looking to start in the police academy, which piqued Bryan’s interest enough as something she could do on the side while she sought her nursing degree.
In 1996, she had two big first days — one as a cop at OCSO and one as a nursing student at UCF. Every week she would work four 10-hour shifts, from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., and then she’d head to UCF for a full day of classes. This was about as overwhelming as it sounds, but, for Bryan, her educational experience has proven to be extremely beneficial in her career.
“That time has helped me throughout my entire law enforcement career,” she says. “All that medical training? I’ve rolled up on several traffic crashes, cardiac arrests, infants needing respiratory help. All that stuff I learned plays a role in law enforcement, so I figure I just have one step up.”
Over her years at OCSO, Bryan has done night watch as a lieutenant on I-drive, road patrol for three years and experienced critical incidents alongside colleagues and the community. She says one of her favorite things about being a deputy in Orange County is the opportunity to protect both the residents and the visitors who come here.
“I think anything between nursing, law enforcement, my military years…it has all made me a better person all around,” she says. “I think I’ve learned to appreciate life, to appreciate people, to appreciate diversity. Those three career choices have given me that.”
Ultimately Bryan ended up sticking with OCSO (even after she received her nursing degree) out of a sense of loyalty and dedication to her job and coworkers. She is currently a lieutenant working in community relations. She oversees about 22 employees that execute things like crime prevention (hosting meetings in neighborhoods about burglar-proofing homes) and civilian police academies (providing overviews of what the sheriff’s office does).
“The sheriff’s office is quite a team,” she says. “There’s no way I would be successful without my team. I succeed when they do and when I fail them, I fail myself as well.”
She explains that when she first started in the military, she would walk with her head down, but experiences in her life have proven that she’s built to lead.
She recounts one story from her nursing days that helped shape her. There was a female patient in the ER whom Bryan had already stuck three times to draw blood, which is the maximum amount of attempts for a student. The on-call nurse came in to take the reins from Bryan, but the patient knew Holly was a student who needed to learn. She insisted that she didn’t want the nurse to do the procedure; she wanted Bryan to try again.
“I told her ‘I can’t anymore’ and she said, ‘You can if I authorize it.’ The nurse basically said I could do it one more time and if I didn’t get it, that was it. And I got it. So even though that woman knew nothing about me, just that I was student nurse, she knew I could handle the challenge. She gave me an opportunity to step up one more time so I could be successful and she pushed me to another level of confidence. Those are the kind of people we need around.”
Bryan knows that in her role as a cop, the most important things she can bring to the table, are respect, understanding and empathy.
“When people call, they’re in a time of need, they’re not having a good day,” she says. “So even if it might be my 200th break-in, it’s probably their first one. It’s cliché, but it really is rewarding to help make someone’s bad day a little bit better by how I respond. Whether it’s a medical call or a crisis, if I can help you get to the other side of whatever you’re going through, it’s a big deal.”