Two of the hardest things anyone will ever face are getting started in a new career and raising kids. Unfortunately, for many people, those two things take place at the very same time, and juggling career and kids can seem like a full-time job in and of itself.
We turned to AARC members for some advice on how respiratory therapists can do both and do both well.
Work opposing shifts
The good news for RTs — and indeed, anyone in the medical field where work goes on 24/7 — is that you do have the opportunity to schedule your working hours around those of your spouse, potentially minimizing or even eliminating the need for daycare and its related costs.
“One way to manage the responsibilities of career and child rearing is to work opposing shifts of your significant other so that one of the primary caregivers is always with the kiddos,” said Kelly L. Colwell, EdD, MRC, RRT-NPS, CPFT, AE-C. “This not only keeps the children’s routine structured but may allow your spouse to be at ease while at work as they know someone familiar is with them and keeping them safe.”
If 12 hour shifts are available at your facility, that’s just icing on the cake because it gives parents the chance to work longer days in return for more days off to spend with their children, he continues.
This type of strategy worked well for Lisa Pisarek, RRT, CPFT.
“When my children were very young, I worked part time night shift on weekends,” Pisarek said. ”I was home during the week with the kids and my husband home with them on the weekends.”
Pisarek says working in a weekend program gives newer therapists the chance to gain great experience while still being home to raise children during the week. More seasoned therapists can seek out a supervisory position in a weekend program at a larger institution.
Ted Gress, BS, RRT, took advantage of shift work during his child-rearing years and was lucky that his wife was able to manage her work schedule accordingly too.
“My wife is an RN and while our son was young, I worked day shift and she was able to work second shift,” Gress said. “It helped with basically eliminating child care issues and saved those costs.”
Target a niche area
Having a good support system helps immensely too.
“I was able to work Monday, Friday, and Saturday for several years until my kids were out of day care,” said Diane Baltzell, BBA, RRT.
Family members were available to take care of the kids on the weekends, which helped significantly with finances.
“Daycare costs in our area are hideously expensive and it wouldn’t have been cost effective to work,” Baltzell said.
Joelle Hochman, RRT, says she’s seen lots of RTs who have been able to cobble together a system that works by taking advantage of splitting shifts with spouses or partners and working with other family members as well.
But that’s not an option for everyone, and it wasn’t for her. She found a solution by targeting a niche area of the profession.
“Since I don’t have local relatives who could help, when my husband and I separated I needed to find a job with daytime, regular hours,” she said. “Pulmonary rehab has been a lifesaver for me in this regard.”
She admits those jobs are few and far between, but she scoured the Internet on a daily basis until she found one that would work for her.
“Vigilance paid off and I actually adore working in PR,” Hochman said.
Look to education
Another great role for any parent who feels strongly that they need a job with regular daytime hours is that of an RT educator.
“I planned my career as an RRT in education because I knew that when I would become a mother I wanted a career where I could be with my children as much as possible, especially when they were young,” said Amy Ceconi, PhD, RRT-NPS.
Like Hochman, she didn’t have family to help out, but she and her husband were able to work different shifts and fill in any gaps with babysitters as she earned first her master’s degree, which led to a job as a director of clinical education, and then her PhD, which resulted in her current position as a program director.
“It wasn’t easy, we both made a lot of sacrifices, and now our kids are 17 and 14 and very independent, successful high school kids,” Dr. Ceconi said.
Babysitters got Linda Smith, RRT, FAARC, through some tough times too, and she found a way to access these invaluable support people without paying anything out of pocket.
“Our son was seven when we divorced and I became a single mother,” she said. “The best thing I did was establish a support group of indebted people by babysitting for neighbors. Then, if school was closed, someone would return the favor. If I got stuck at the hospital, someone gladly had my back. Single smartest thing I ever did.”
Try job sharing
You can get creative in other ways too. When Lorraine Cullen’s daughter was ten months old a supervisory position opened up at her hospital and the RRT knew it could help her get ahead in her career. But she wasn’t ready to leave her daughter on a full time basis just yet.
“I reached out to the director and asked if there was any consideration of job sharing,” says Cullen. ”She was open to this and I was able to job share the position and start my leadership career.”
Several years later she used the experience she gained in that supervisory position to transition to a management role and she also enrolled in an MS degree program.
Her kids were eight and five by then and she opted for a remote degree program to ensure it would fit into her family life.
“I think while raising children, you need to look at each step you want to take in your career and evaluate the best way to approach it and how you can reasonably make it work while balancing your home life,” said Cullen. ”I have also always been fortunate to work for leaders that felt work-life balance was important.”
The journey begins
Mandy Harshberger, MEd, RRT, is just starting out on this journey of career building while raising kids. Her boys are three and one, and she completed her master’s degree while pregnant and wrote her thesis with a newborn in toe.
“The biggest lesson I learned is to allow myself some space,” Harshberger said. ”You need to take care of yourself, so give yourself the time to drink a hot cup of coffee, get your hair done, go shopping — whatever it is that you need to take care of you.”
She also advises new moms to let go of the mom guilt about working and realize that just being with your kids doesn’t mean you’re actually present with them.
“It is okay to want to further your career even if that means less total time at home with your kiddos,” she said. ”Total time means nothing if it is not present time. Being present for 20 minutes is more important than just being there not present.”
She wants her boys to grow up knowing their own spouses can achieve their goals in life too.
“I want my boys to respect their futures spouses’ dreams of wanting to move forward professionally, and I hope I am doing that by example,” Harshberger said.