Returning to RT: My Journey from Here to There and Back Again

Lisa Azzarito Pepino enjoys working with pulmonary rehab patients at her hospital.

Lisa Azzarito Pepino enjoys working with pulmonary rehab patients
at her hospital.

By Lisa Azzarito Pepino, RRT

I knew I wanted to be a respiratory therapist right out of high school. When I was a child our neighborhood kids used to play “WAR.” The boys would shoot at each other and my childhood friend and I would play “paramedic” and “fix” all the injured. We were diehard fans of the television show “Emergency” and I had a crush on Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth).

As high school students we were counseled regarding our career choices. I found out paramedics didn’t make good money, so I didn’t want to do that anymore. But I knew I wanted a hands on health care field. I love working with people. I declined nursing because I didn’t want to be in the same place, taking care of the same faces all day. Respiratory therapist seemed ideal. Yes, I was going to specialize and be all over the hospital.

I graduated from Manchester Community College 1985 with an ASRT degree and got a job right away. I continued in my education and earned my BSRT by going to classes at night. I left the profession after nine years, pregnant with my first child, because I didn’t want to work the hospital shift hours.

A real emergency

I was out of the traditional RT role for 20 years. Then, while employed as a medical assistant for a group of surgeons I experienced a patient in our office having an anaphylactic reaction and in need of emergency care. I jumped into action, securing and managing her airway and breathing for her until the paramedics arrived. This was such an eye opener for me. I realized I needed to get back in the hospital and back into respiratory therapy.

Shortly after that I moved to Massachusetts to be married and found myself looking for employment. I was unable to find an RT position and decided I needed to make myself more marketable. I enrolled in an online nursing program and began working toward my ASRN. Months later, the manager of the RT department at the local hospital called and asked if I was still looking for work, as I had stopped in to introduce myself to him six months prior in hopes that he would remember me when a staff position opened up.

I was hired on as a staff member at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, MA, in June of 2012.

Like riding a bike

Transitioning back into the role of a hospital respiratory therapist was pretty easy. Just like that day with the anaphylactic patient, it was like the proverbial “riding a bicycle.” It all came back to me fast. It had been 20 years since I had performed an arterial stick, and with butterflies in my stomach and a willing patient, I hit the bull’s eye.

Fairview Hospital is a 23-bed critical access hospital and I now hold my dream position. We perform many outpatient tasks, such as running pulmonary rehabilitation classes, performing PFTs and EKGs, and applying Holter and Event monitors — all while covering the hospital inpatients and the emergency department.

I encourage anyone looking to return to this profession to follow your passion as I did. I was out of the field from 1994-2012. I am now very happily employed. I love my job and I still love being all over the hospital.