By Jessica Schweller, MS, RRT, RN, CNP
I actually became a respiratory therapist after visiting a pediatric sleep lab as a camp counselor with students. At the time, I had no idea what I was witnessing or that it was changing my career path, but forever I look back on that week and realize I was truly seeing my future unfold when I was chaperoning those teenagers on that field trip.
When I eventually did graduate as an RT, I worked as an inpatient therapist, as most of us do, but still was seeking to further my career. I then went on to advance my degree and became a nurse practitioner (NP), hoping to stay in the pulmonary field, as this was now my passion.
I graduated in 2004 with my BS in RT and in 2008 with my MS in nursing. Before graduation, I didn’t know if a job in pulmonary or sleep would be available. I started working as a sleep NP as my first NP job. It seemed fitting with my RT background; however, I had a lot to learn.
I knew the basics about CPAP and bilevel, but had to relearn all the machines, names and brands of masks, and most of the sleep disorders as well. It was difficult to orient myself to outpatient life at first, but then things came easy and I began to use my knowledge base to help teach others in our clinic.
I studied resource guides from the manufacturers and attended local, state, and national sleep meetings, as well as the AARC Congresses. I was able to familiarize myself with products and stay on top of the information, as technology was changing.
One thing I noticed as a staff therapist was how so many patients refused positive airway pressure therapy in the hospital or were afraid of it. This led me to want to improve compliance in the outpatient setting; therefore, this is what I focus on today. I current see about 67 patients per week. While they represent a variety of diagnoses, I focus mostly on sleep disordered breathing.
Sleep medicine is a field where you can actually improve quality of life, and patients are grateful for that. It’s truly inspiring when patients or family members tell you what a difference you’ve made – how they now wake up actually feeling rested and have you to thank for it. It makes what you do rewarding and I look forward to it every day.
Sleep medicine is continuing to grow as a field and therapists should consider sleep medicine as a great field to enter. Working in a clinic can offer daytime hours as opposed just working in a sleep lab at night, so there is something for everyone!