How I Went From Bedside Respiratory Therapy To Patient Safety Advocacy

From Bedside Respiratory Therapy To Patient Safety AdvocacyRobin Kidder keeps her facility up-to-date on patient safety issues. In the following interview, she explains how she transitioned from bedside respiratory therapy to patient safety advocacy.

As a senior patient safety specialist at BJC Healthcare in St. Louis, MO, AARC member Robin Kidder, BA, RRT, AE-C, is helping to ensure clinicians have what they need to deliver safe care. In the following interview, she explains how her RT background helped her land the position.

When did you become an RT and what drew you to the profession?

When I was a kid I always found hospitals and anything medical fascinating. In the ‘90s I decided to become a nurse. I didn’t even know what a respiratory therapist was! While in a microbiology class, a classmate shared that he was in the respiratory therapy program, explained what that meant, and I thought to myself, well I can do that!

Where did you work when you first started out in the field and what did you like about the job?

I worked as a student therapist at a local St. Louis hospital for low-income or uninsured patients. It gave me a great eye for diversity, allowed me to have a new world view of the health disparities that are present in our health system, and it was the first time I could see how I really could connect and make a difference in patient’s lives.

When did you get involved in patient safety and what led to the transition from bedside respiratory therapy to patient safety advocacy?

As a staff RCP, I was involved in patient safety without even recognizing that that’s really what it was. Some examples were identifying patients correctly, making sure that I entered safety reports, keeping an eye out for anything that had a potential harm for patients, and not being afraid to speak up — that was a huge one.

How did you prepare to go from bedside respiratory therapy to patient safety advocacy? 

I quickly learned that communication was the number one reason for adverse events and knew this was something that I could help positively impact. I became a clinical instructor and took great pride in helping shape the future of my fellow therapists, along with assisting in the development of staff, with patient safety being a huge teaching point in every scenario. I volunteered to be a member of various department and hospital teams/committees and graduated from a cultural competency training program, which prepared me for the health care cultural competency training I still perform to this day. I then became supervisor and led teams that took charge of patient safety projects such an SBAR project focused on improving handoffs, scanning compliance process improvement, a hand hygiene compliance program, and cultural competency train the trainers.

How are you working in the patient safety arena today?

I have a healthy dose of variety in my work, as I could be helping a team perform cause mapping and come up with action items to prevent harm for patients in the future, helping other hospital teams learn and utilize action items developed from another sister hospital, or leading teams in patient safety projects.

I have been a part of a rapid improvement event for system-wide recalls and patient safety alerts, served as team lead for a committee that focuses on reducing unnecessary multiple patient medical records across the BJC and Washington University Medical Center enterprise, and worked as the project manager for a team organizing our eventual transition to new universal enteral safe connectors at the system level, including education and collaborating with the subject matter experts throughout all phases of transition.

Everything I do is for the safety of patients and I do this by supporting the clinicians at the bedside. Any issue that can affect patients at more than one hospital is open for my assistance.

What kind of characteristics does the position require and how is your background in RT helping you in the job?

My particular position requires excellent leadership skills, critical thinking, and a perspective that includes the view of the clinician and patient. My time spent in respiratory care demanded critical thinking to be a skilled therapist, and patient safety was a focus even in respiratory school. Also, since my team includes physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, having an RRT adds another clinical expertise to make a well-rounded team. Sometimes I go to my co-workers for clinical advice and sometimes they come to me. We always know there is someone to help.

Do you believe other RTs could play a larger and more formal role in patient safety? Why or why not?

I wish more RTs would get more involved with patient safety. We have the tools and experience to do this as much as, if not more than, any other health care provider. All you need is to have a passion for keeping patients and employees safe. I believe respiratory therapists want the best for their patients and many have great ideas. They just need to share them with the right folks — and be willing to help implement them too.

What would therapists need to do to prepare to enter this area of health care and what bits of advice can you give them about getting their foot in the door?

Get involved. Start off by joining department and/or hospital committees that have aspects of patient safety in them. If there are no committees, ask your boss if you can create them. Also, having leadership like I had that supports their employees being involved really helps fellow health care providers recognize who we are as a profession and how much impact we have with patient care. Another piece of advice is to learn lean methodology. Take classes in that and in leadership to strengthen your capacity to lead others to effective change while using tools that make it easier to do so.

Want to learn more about patient safety advocacy? Join the roundtable discussion at AARConnect.