Career Enrichment: Volunteer at Health Fairs

visitor exploring respiratory equipment display

Photo taken at Al Wakra Hospital in Doha, Qatar. They held a health fair for their community as part of Respiratory Care Week in October. More on this story at “Celebrating Respiratory Care Week Around the Globe

Respiratory therapists are the lung health experts in their communities, and there is no better place to show off that expertise to the general public than at community health fairs. RTs who volunteer at these events believe the experience enriches their careers.

Bringing awareness to RT

Cathy Blevins, MS, RRT, RPFT, from Twin County Regional Healthcare in Galax, VA, partners with her hospital’s business development and wellness teams to bring RT expertise to an array of community groups. She also offers tobacco cessation programs to any business in the area that is interested in providing the service for their employees.

“Every time that I participate, I meet and interact with individuals that don’t even know what a respiratory therapist is or does,” Blevins said. “It brings awareness to our profession.”

But most importantly, she says, it gives her the opportunity to educate members of the public on topics related to respiratory conditions.

“I’ve volunteered several times at local health fairs,” said Janet Carter, RRT, from Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, SC. “I enjoy meeting the people and hearing their stories.”

Carter says engaging with patients and families out where they live helps to reinforce the important role RTs play in their care and their lives.

“Many of them just want you to listen to them and have a person that cares about them as a person not just as a patient,” she said. “We make a difference in their lives whether we know it or not.”

Marlyce Campbell, CRT, participates in her facility’s Wellness Fair, where she offers visitors the chance to take the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to see if they may have a sleep disorder that should be checked out. She also focuses on neb cups and how to clean them and why it is important to check the nebulizer for pressure.

“At the end of the three hours I feel good about what I did,” said the director of respiratory care at Trego County Lemke Memorial Hospital in Wakeeney, KS. Often a patient or family member will approach her sometime later with comments on how much useful information they learned from her booth.

Educators see value

Kyle Kern, MS, RRT, says he’s gotten involved in a number of health fairs in Southeastern Missouri over the past four years, and particularly likes going to high schools where he can educate the kids about the opportunities available in the respiratory care profession.

As director of clinical education at Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center in Cape Girardeau, MO, he finds too many potential students still don’t know what an RT is and anything that can help change that situation is worthwhile.

“I do it not only to spread the word about our profession, because 85 percent of high school students have never heard of respiratory therapy, but also for recruitment for our RT program,” Kern said.

For John Conrad, BS, RRT, RRT-NPS, an associate professor and director of clinical education at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, PA, local health fairs are a way to get his students engaged in community service.

“Each spring several of the students in our Respiratory Therapy Club volunteer at a college-sponsored health fair,” Conrad said. “The students and I both gain an increased awareness on the need for us to become more involved in patient education.”

He says it’s rewarding to see his students interact with the public while applying their knowledge in a practical way.

“It’s a good feeling to give back to the community and to see the students grow in their communication skills and in confidence,” Conrad said.

Valli Bobo, RRT, RRT-ACCS, director of clinical education at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, takes his students to high school health fairs where they set up respiratory care displays ranging from healthy and smoking pigs lungs to an intubation manikin and laryngoscope They even bring baby dolls of different sizes to depict full term and premature births to show the kids how tobacco and drug use can harm newborns.

“I love seeing the interaction of our students with the crowd,” Bobo said. “They have such a good time and especially love teaching the younger ones.”

Career-long endeavor

Volunteering at health fairs has been a career-long endeavor for Lorraine Bertuola, MBA, RRT, director of O2 Safe Solutions.

“It is an opportunity to connect to people in the community where they live,” she said. “When you raise their awareness to health issues that could be affecting them or their families it is a good feeling. If we can help a few people with their conversations with their health provider, then the time is well spent.”

For Beth Koch, MRC, RRT, RPFT, health fairs are a way of life too. An RT in pulmonary diagnostics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, OH, she has volunteered at school health fairs, those put on by churches, those sponsored by hospitals, and those offered by senior care facilities, and she says she always enjoys interacting with the people who are there and sharing her RT expertise with them.

“Volunteering gives me a sense of well-being, confidence, and enthusiasm for the respiratory profession,” Koch said. “It’s a means of ‘recharging’ that enthusiasm.”

Michele Sawyer, RRT, says she participates in several health fairs every year, zeroing in on smoking cessation.

“I also test FEV1 for those interested in finding out their lung age,” said the RT at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System in Greenville, SC. “This is very helpful for those that have not thought about quitting or are on the fence about quitting because when you are 20 and your lung age is 40-50, it can be a real eye-opener.”

If just one person she reaches out to that day agrees to try quitting, she feels it’s all been worth it.

Making a life

“We’ve been involved for the last four years with our hospital’s health fair,” said Charlie De Francesco, BS, RRT, RABT, director of respiratory care at Union General Hospital in Blairsville, GA. “It’s been great fun to get to talk with our community in an informal setting. People will actually thank you for giving them the time to engage in a one on one conversation about a particular pulmonary/health issue.”

De Francesco likes to cite Winston Churchill on how these events benefit him personally, and the quote is one that would most likely resonate with other RTs who volunteer at health fairs and other community service events as well.

Said Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”