Defining Moments that Changed RT Careers

Defining Moments

Nearly everyone can point to a moment or two in time that changed their lives in some way. Marriage, children, moving to a new city — they all have an impact.

For some, though, the defining moment comes in the context of their careers. Five AARC members share their stories.

COPD patient inspired him to do more

Christian Becker, MSRT, RRT, from New York, began his career 25 years ago sure he would spend it working in the fast-paced environment of the ER or ICU.

“I wanted to be where the action was,” Becker said.

A few years in, however, and he found himself becoming increasingly concerned about what he saw as the ‘revolving door’ of COPD admissions.

“They would come into the ER with an acute exacerbation, they would be intubated, placed on CMV — this was long before BiPAP and CPAP — we would wean them off, send them home, and a month later, they would be back in the ER,” Becker said. ”I thought that there had to be a better way.”

His defining moment came when he was hired by a DME company part-time to visit an 80-year-old woman who had been discharged to go home with a tracheostomy and on mechanical ventilation. Doctors said she was “unweanable.”

“This was in 1985 and little was known about pulmonary rehabilitation at the time,” Becker said. ”I began to learn as much as I could about pulmonary rehab and applied what I learned to Mrs. S’s care plan. Low and behold I was able to wean her off her ventilator.”

Her doctors were impressed and Becker had found his new calling. He continued to learn all he could about pulmonary rehab and ended up starting the first pulmonary rehab program at his hospital in 1995. A year later he assumed responsibility for cardiac rehab as well.

In 2009 he was asked to create a Phase 1B cardiopulmonary rehab program at a skilled nursing facility and that led to similar projects at other facilities. Today he manages PR programs at nine facilities in the area.

“All from working with that one 80-year-old, ‘unweanable’ COPD patient,” Becker said.

A little push made a big difference

For Amber McVeigh, BSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, an experience she had in her first year on the job at a hospital in Houston, TX changed her career trajectory.

“My defining moment was being pushed to assist in yearly competency checkoffs within my first year of hire,” McVeigh said. “The confidence my assistant director and managers had in me was amazing and the phenomenal feeling I had spreading information to my co-workers was one I then longed for again.”

She decided she wanted to take on an educator’s role in the hospital so she could help grow the department. She knew she’d need additional education to make that happen and decided to begin work on a master’s degree.

Now she’s a hospital-based respiratory educator at a women’s and children’s hospital in North Carolina.

Leap of faith 

Eighteen years ago, Harriette Janssen, RRT, took a leap of faith and left her clinical position at an area hospital to take a part-time job starting up a pulmonary rehab program.

“Soon after, cardiac rehab had two EPs that were going on maternity leave and they wondered how they would cover the leaves,” Janssen said.

She told them if they’d teach her how to do cardiac rehab, she’d cover the area while the EPs were out, and after six months in the role, she was able to finally build her pulmonary rehabilitation program too.

Now she serves as coordinator of both programs and has even gotten involved in telehealth.

“I have since created a telephonic COPD management program in conjunction with a local health insurance company that has contracted our services to implement,” Janssen said.

“You should be a teacher”

Pulmonary rehabilitation was the starting point for Rena Laliberte’s defining moment. The BS, RRT from Michigan was working in the area back in 2000 and was charged with much of the teaching involved.

“I had to come up with creative and very easy ways to teach them and have them really understand what I was trying to share with them,” Laliberte said.

She was good at it, and patients would often tell her she should be a teacher. When the rehab facility closed she went back to the hospital and started working with students during their clinical rotations, and later with new hires during their orientations.

“From there the list just grew — nursing staff, residents, fellows, physicians, and adjunct teaching at the Oakland Community College RT program,” Laliberte said. “I now write policies and procedures, lecture at our state society conferences, returned to obtain my bachelor’s degree, and recently received a promotion.”

Today she is a clinical education specialist and she’s loving every minute of it.

“My first love is always being a respiratory therapist, but I also love teaching the world what we as therapists truly know and do!” Laliberte said.

A change in perspective

A move to Cincinnati in 1997 gave Jon Inkrott, RRT-ACCS, a new perspective on his career. He’d been in the profession for a few years by then but had never encountered fellow clinicians like those he met at a leading hospital there.

“It seemed so much more cerebral at that point in my young career and it opened my mind to how much more we could do as respiratory therapists, from research and publishing to interdisciplinary rounds and team functionality,” said Inkrott, who now makes his home in Florida.

In the years since he’s worked in numerous areas of the profession and seen the same challenges other RTs have, from the decentralizing of RT departments to nurses and physical therapists taking over some RT functions.

His time in Cincinnati has not only kept him going but energized him to get involved and make a difference.

“I can’t say that it changed my career, but I look back at my years in critical care, home care, long-term care, sleep medicine, education, and now critical care transport, and feel as though that defining moment had a great impact on my thought process and how I was going to pursue the rest of my career and believe it made me a more complete therapist,” Inkrott said.