For Some RTs, When One Door Closes, Another Opens

Career Advice AARCThree RTs share their stories of unexpected career changes that led to job fulfillment 

As John Lennon once so famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s certainly been the case for some RTs who were heading towards one door to professional advancement only to find that door locked up tight. Without the right key to open it, they looked around and saw another door standing wide open, walked right through, and now couldn’t be happier.

We share three of their respiratory therapist career stories here.

Pediatrics Is NOT For Me

Gail Dutcher, RRT, CPFT, AE-C, was working nights at a children’s hospital in Texas when she decided pediatrics wasn’t really her strong suit. In order to make herself stand out from the crowd, she started making plans to take the Adult Acute Care Specialist exam and earn her CPFT credential. An interview at a leading medical center in her community, however, didn’t go as planned. She didn’t get the job.

Although she later learned the hospital hired from within, it was still a bit of a shock for this generally successful therapist. “Usually it is me turning down a position, so this was a little bit of a surprise,” she says now.

While she was considering what to do next, a position opened up at the outpatient pavilion run by the children’s hospital where she was currently employed on the inpatient side. “It was a brand new job and did not even have a budget the first year,” she says. “But they felt they needed an RRT for PFTs and asthma education.” By then she had her CPFT, and since she also has the AE-C credential, she decided to apply.

“I interviewed against a team leader and an outside applicant, and got the job. I started in January 2015,” says Dutcher. So far she loves the position. Her bosses have trusted her with the budget and growing the business and she has her own template for outpatient referrals from community physicians. “I have spirometry, both office based and portable, for inpatient and other clinic areas. I have a body box and also do FENO. We will begin exercise testing when we move to a new location in the summer.”

Dutcher says she particularly appreciates the autonomy the position affords, and the chance it has given her to support various physician specialists and educate RNs and some of the MDs on what an RT can bring to the table. “I have the best job in the world,” says the AARC member. “I just had to wait a little bit for it.”

Missing the Kids

For Michael Houston, RRT-NPS, RPSGT, changing hospital infrastructure at his large medical center in Louisiana forced him to consider leaving the world of pediatrics for the world of sleep. “I served as clinical coordinator in a NICU that was closed,” explains the AARC member. “To stay in the same organization, I acquired my RPSGT and started in the sleep field.”

But it wasn’t long before he began to miss his neonatal and pediatric patients. He grew unhappy and dissatisfied and eventually left the organization to go to another hospital where he could once again work in the PICU and pediatric ER. Then a supervisory position opened up and he applied, only to be turned down because he hadn’t been with the organization long enough.

“Soon thereafter I received word my facility was looking for someone to manage their sleep lab,” he says. While he normally would have said no from the outset, learning that the lab would see 50-60% pediatric patients made the job seem like the best of both of his professional worlds.

“I have been working in this lab for 8-9 months now and am enormously happy,” says Houston. His team members work well together, patient satisfaction averages in the mid-90s, and his bosses make him feel as if he is part of the big picture. “I feel very fortunate to be in a field where I can attain professional and personal satisfaction.”

Looking Beyond Borders

Earning an advanced degree and becoming a standout therapist on the job should equal a chance for promotion. But as Ed Coombs, MA, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, found out, when your organization is full of people who are just as talented as you are and have more seniority, that’s not necessarily the case.

“I had worked at a university hospital in both a shift supervisor and staff therapist role for nearly 13 years,” explains the AARC member. He was fortunate to have many mentors who helped him advance his skills, he earned his master’s degree, and he developed many personal and professional relationships within the institution. Still, with so much talent already in leadership roles, he says it became clear to him that “to advance my career I was going to need to look beyond the borders of the hospital.”

An opportunity arose to enter the respiratory device manufacturing industry as a clinical applications specialist and he decided to give it a shot. From there he became a product manager, and today he serves as director of marketing for intensive care and neonatal care for Draeger.

It might not have been the path he planned to follow, but it has turned out to be the right path for him. “In my tenure within industry, I have been fortunate to have networked with many thought-leaders within the respiratory care community both nationally and internationally,” says Coombs. “This opportunity has allowed me to participate in advancing technologies to support mechanical ventilation, respiratory monitoring, and neonatal care.”

Along the way he’s developed personal passions for patient safety, health care economics, clinical education, and lung physiology as well, allowing him to combine his clinical background, business acumen, and education to create a high degree of personal satisfaction in his job.

“My plans for the future are to continue in my current role and advance innovative technologies that can make a difference in our patients’ well-being and add value to our customers and profession,” says Coombs.