Growing Your Professional Network

image of a hand reaching out and touching an expanding network web

New grads often enter the RT workforce with a fair amount of trepidation. Will I be able to handle the responsibilities of a staff therapist? What will it really be like to deal with patients and families when I’m the only therapist in the room? And looming large on many lists, who can I turn to to help build my career?

The latter concern is certainly valid because, while networking is a critical component of any therapist’s career, reaching out to people in the profession and asking for their support and guidance isn’t always easy to do. Crystal Dunlevy, EdD, RRT, is a respiratory care professor at The Ohio State University who regularly offers advice to new grads on stepping outside of their comfort zones in this area. She shares some of her top tips with us in this interview.

First, tell us why you believe it is important for new grads to begin developing a network of RT professionals as soon as they graduate — what value will this network add to their career prospects?

I would actually advise students to begin building a network before they graduate. It’s never too soon to hone social skills. The RT world is a small one, and there’s a hidden job market in every profession. If you’ve invested time and energy in making meaningful connections, you may be the first person someone thinks of when an opportunity presents itself.

Second, what advice do you have for new grads on going about the process of developing their professional networks? What are 4-5 specific things they can do to get started and why do you believe doing these things is the right way to go when developing a professional network from scratch?

  1. Don’t start from scratch! Your professors, lab instructors, and clinical instructors are all people to start building your network around. No one will ever tell you that you can’t do more, take on more responsibility, etc., so volunteer for anything and everything. Complete those tasks on time and with a good attitude, and good karma will come back to you.
  2. Maintain regular and consistent contact with the people you’ve connected with. Invite them for coffee, send an email or a personal note.
  3. Be careful about the image you project. Be positive, build rapport, get things done when you have promised, and be genuinely kind to everyone. My first boss used to say, “Be nice to people on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.”
  4. Set clear goals. Decide where you’d like to go so that you can choose activities, committees, etc., that are in line with your purpose.

Reaching out to RT professionals to make connections can be hard for RTs just entering the field — what would you say to new grads who are having trouble getting past that initial starting point? Why should they just go ahead and do it?

It can be intimidating to make connections, but start with the ones you already have — like RT faculty — and it’s less daunting. Also, lots of RTs would be happy to mentor you and pass on the benefits of their experience. And, if every mentor/mentee connection isn’t a good match, don’t worry about it.

The key piece of sage advice: Six degrees of separation (or Kevin Bacon). You are only ever five or six people away from getting what you want. For example: Your faculty member distributes information about a state meeting ⇾ you go to the meeting and arrange to meet your instructor for coffee ⇾ the instructor introduces you to RTs at the meeting ⇾ you sit in on a lecture about something that interests you, and introduce yourself to the speaker after the presentation (say you enjoyed it or ask a question that begins a conversation) ⇾ you volunteer to be the student representative on a committee you’ve learned about ⇾ you meet managers on this committee. You get the idea.