Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

We all have things we’re comfortable doing, whether that be at home or at work, and it’s easy to stick with what we know. After all, why bust out on a new path that you aren’t sure will pay off when the tried and true is getting the job done?

Respiratory therapists who have stepped out of their comfort zones in the profession believe the answer to that question is, why not?

Don’t be afraid to shed a tear

Just over a year ago, Kristina Dzwonchyk, RRT, CPFT, was offered a job as the sole RT in an outpatient neuromuscular clinic at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, CT.

She was afraid she would lose her critical care skills, and she didn’t know what it would be like to work with patients with such devastating conditions.

“Could I be strong enough to not shed tears as I share in the suffering that these patients endure?” she asked herself.

With the encouragement of a few physicians and coworkers, however, she decided to go for it and she’s been more than happy with her choice.
“I decided to create my job the way I wanted and dreamed,” Dzwonchyk said.

She got busy learning everything she could about the diseases involved, the equipment used, and what it would take to make patients comfortable with their breathing.

Along the way she learned how to deliver presentations on respiratory care modalities to a room full of physicians and expanded her role from doing spirometry and ordering DME to providing patient education and follow up and coordinating care for patients based on their own wishes.

Now she’s viewed by her colleagues as the expert in the respiratory care of the neuromuscular patient and NIV.

“Not only has this changed my career for the better, but it has also changed my life as a whole,” Dzwonchyk said. “I am constantly reminded to truly live in every moment, enjoy every breath, and never be afraid to share tears with a patient.”

Tiny babies were terrifying

Apprehensions about working with a new patient population were also top of mind for Susan Leigh, BSRT, RRT, RRT-NPS, when she was faced with choosing a specialty area to do clinical rotations in as she was obtaining her bachelor’s degree in respiratory care.

“The hospital I was working at really needed RTs that were proficient in neonatal and pediatrics and asked me if I’d be interested in doing my advanced clinical in the NICU and PICU,” she said. “I was terrified to work with those tiny babies but I decided to give it a go.”

She found her passion and has never looked back.

“I’ve dedicated almost 30 years to this specialty and am forever grateful I didn’t let fear hold me back,” Leigh said.

She credits good preceptors for guiding her through her initial time in the area and she’s paying it forward by helping to educate and guide RTs who are just getting their start with these patients through her current job at Michigan Medicine Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI.

“Working with kids has helped me see the world in a new way,” Leigh said. “They have given more to me than I could ever give to them.”

Stepping into bigger positions

Leaving the bedside to take on roles in management and education were the big steps taken by Micheline Plantada, BSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, and Trisha Miller, BS, RRT, RPFT.

Plantada was only five months into a supervisor’s position at Kindred Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL, when her CEO and CNO asked her to become interim director of the respiratory care department. While she was working on her master’s at the time, she had zero experience with this level of management and wasn’t sure she was right for the position.

She decided to give it a try anyway, and that interim role turned into a full time position. Thanks to some great teamwork from her staff, her department exceeded several goals in ventilator weaning rates and planned decannulations. Now, some nine months later, she’s moving on to even bigger and better things.

“I was offered a director position at one of the largest acute care and trauma hospitals in the area,” Plantada said. “That leap from supervisor to interim director and advancing my education is opening up doors I never thought possible.”

Miller’s opportunity to move into RT education came after about nine years of experience working as a staff therapist and clinical educator at a hospital. A respiratory therapy instructor position became available in her area and she was asked to apply.

“I was very nervous because teaching in the hospital and teaching in a classroom setting were very different, and I did not have any education on how to teach in the classroom,” she said.

With assurances from the hospital that she could come back to her old job if things didn’t work out, she left the bedside behind and stepped into the classroom at Carteret Community College in Morehead City, NC.

She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree and is now program director and also president-elect of the North Carolina Society for Respiratory Care.

“I do not know that some of the opportunities that I have taken advantage of would have happened if I had not taken the instructor position,” Miller said.

Never thought they’d do this

For Terry Forrette, MHS, RRT, FAARC, and Raymond Aguilar, RRT, leaving the comfort zone behind has meant the chance to impact areas of the profession they never thought they’d be involved with.

“I decided to initiate and conduct my first clinical research several years ago,” said Forrette, who serves as an adjunct associate professor at LSU Health in New Orleans, LA.

Even though he had been teaching for a number of years, he didn’t think he was qualified to take on a research project, assuming that would require a PhD or MD.

“One of my fellow faculty members, who was a PhD, urged me to take my clinical skills one step further and get involved in research,” he said. “What a surprise I had when I discovered how much I enjoyed it.”

Getting involved in research opened several new doors for Forrette and he eventually became a tenured faculty member. He began speaking at meetings around the country as well.

“I still participate in research projects and several years ago became part of the Trauma Surgery Team at our university hospital in New Orleans,” Forrette said.

Aguilar’s new calling in home care began back in 1981 when he took on the role of patient education for chronic respiratory patients known as “frequently flyers” — those patients who kept coming back into the hospital with another acute exacerbation of their disease.

“My job was to educate them on respiratory treatment and respiratory medication usage, along with bronchial hygiene as well as breathing techniques such as purse lip breathing and huff coughing,” he said.

If it could work at the hospital, he wondered, could it work at home too? He looked into home care companies in his hometown of Corpus Christi, TX, and found none of them had clinical employees to help patients with their respiratory needs.

“So I stepped out of my zone into a whole new world,” Aguilar said. “I took on a partner who was also a RRT, and between us we had a good reputation, but most of all, the trust of the pulmonary physicians and most of the medical community.”

The business has been successful, and he says he and his partner always strive to put their patients first.

From the OR to RT

Mike Czervinske, RRT, RRT-NPS, FAARC, a respiratory care educator at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, KS, has a ‘stepping out’ story to share too, but it didn’t happen after he got into the profession.

It was what got him into RT in the first place.

“I was a technician in the OR. I saw these folks come into the recovery room—what we called it back then—put patients waking up from surgery on these machines that breathed for them, then came back, took measurements, and after that most of the time pulled the tube,” he said.

Sometimes those people ended up having to bag the patient and he later learned they put people on ventilators too.

It looked interesting and he liked the fact that they got to work in many different areas of the hospital rather than stay in one place.

“I looked into it, got the minimum amount of training I needed, then transferred from the OR to respiratory therapy,” he said. ”I feel like I have been able to make more of an impact in this career than if I had not made the switch. I have always loved whatever I have done in this career.”