It’s Never Too Late: Why Continuing My Education was the Best Investment in Me

ry Ann Couture

Mary Ann Couture, MS, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, is a senior staff therapist at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT.

After 20 years with an associate degree I was about to become an empty nester. As my youngest went off to college in 1998, I decided to get my BSRT from a local college. I was hearing about the possibility that a bachelor’s degree may one day be the minimal educational requirement for our field, which concerned me, even though this was far into the future with the intention of grandfathering current therapists.

It had happened before

When I started as a staff therapist in 1975, my classmate and I were the only two people in a small rural hospital with a degree in “inhalation therapy.” We were among an entire staff of on-the-job trainees. There were a few respiratory “certificate” holders, and as the years progressed, the minimum requirement became to get that degree or you would be out of a job. While approaching retirement age in the next 15 years or so, would the same happen to me?

I found that returning to college was relatively easy, since I entered as an adult learner and could readily meet deadlines. I studied part time over four years and was able to use some educational funds from my workplace to obtain my degree in 2003.

Once completed, I continued on for another four years at my state university to obtain a master’s of science in allied health/health promotion, which is an offshoot of public health studies. I was offered one of three track choices: health education certification, public policy, or research. I planned for a thesis, but many of my advisors had moved on so I went for an exit exam and a 20 page paper on public policy.

My subject was recreational use of oxygen and the law. Much of the literature search took me through the Library of Congress online. I rewrote that paper in condensed form and published it as an editorial the year I graduated, 2007.

An enriching experience

Along the way I found that my core classes helped me improve my writing and math skills, as well as my ability to critically assess published papers. I learned that I could take on projects that took me out of my comfort zone. I received writing awards and scholarships, including the NBRC/AMP Gareth B. Gish Memorial Education Recognition Award in 2005.

I remain a critical care specialist in the clinical field that I truly enjoy. My advanced degrees helped me in achieving my planned goals. I have had opportunities to teach part time and to write. I knew where my educational path was guiding me, and even as I approach retirement the added education enriches my appreciation of this profession and the many more opportunities for growth.

Mary Ann Couture is a senior staff therapist at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT.