Pearls of Wisdom

image of loose pearls

If you’re a young professional just starting out in your respiratory care career you may be wondering what it will take to ensure a lifetime of success in the field.

Turns out, there are lots of people out there who can offer some words of wisdom on that topic: namely, the folks who have already had a successful career in the profession.

We asked three of them to share their thoughts in the following interview. John Rutkowski, MBA, MPA, RRT, FACHE, FAARC, is the respiratory therapy program director at the County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ. Jack Fried, MS, BSRC, RRT, is director of respiratory care and neurodiagnostic services at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT. And Terry Forrette, MHS, RRT, FAARC, is an adjunct associate professor in the department of cardiopulmonary science at LSU Health in New Orleans, LA.

How long have you been in the respiratory care profession?

John Rutkowski: I started as an OJT — on the job trained — inhalation therapy technician after graduating from high school in 1969. I was very fortunate to have a manager — a nurse — who encouraged me to get a formal education in the field. She also helped me get a scholarship. My formal education began in the summer of 1970. After earning my A.S. degree in 1972 I took the required examinations and became a Registered Inhalation Therapist, credential #1,961, in 1973. Another very important step in my career development was joining our professional organization. I joined and continue to be a member of what is now the American Association for Respiratory Care, in 1971.

Jack Fried: Forty-eight years.

Terry Forrette: I have been in RT since 1973 — 46 years.

What would you say are the top 2-3 lessons you have learned over your long career in respiratory care, and how have these lessons helped you further your career in the profession?

John Rutkowski: My lessons learned would have to include, first and foremost, never stop learning. There is always something new to learn. It could be in a clinical area or perhaps in an academia. Never discount who you can learn from. I’m 68 years old and I teach in a respiratory therapy program. Sometimes it seems like I learn as much from my students as other professionals. You should always consider learning from experts in other fields.

Next lesson, find a mentor. As a young professional, you don’t know everything. You might have a vision as to what you want to be down the road. A mentor can help guide you and help you get where you want to be.

Lesson three is, understand how your feelings affect you and your performance. This is an important skill to have in many aspects of life. Learn to keep distracting emotions in check and to maintain your effectiveness under stressful conditions. Be adaptable — have the flexibility to handle change, balance multiple demands, and adapt to new situations with fresh ideas. These are a few of the tenets of emotional intelligence. When you get a chance, learn about emotional intelligence. Then practice those skills every day.

Jack Fried: Attitude is everything. People like people who are energetic, cheerful, and who show initiative. Combine these traits with modesty and commitment and you can do almost anything.

There were numerous times that, while working as a weekend per diem in hospitals where no one knew I was a director during the week, nurses and doctors hostile to respiratory therapists not only accepted my suggestions, they started asking for them. In one hospital, an intensivist crossed the hall, pulled me out of the ICU to which I was assigned and literally pulled me into his. The reason was simply that he knew that I cared about my work. Positive people make mistakes just as everyone else, but people are more likely to forgive and even laugh when they respect you.

Terry Forrette: I’ve learned to be open to change and innovation, especially in the areas of airway clearance and mechanical ventilation. Also, it’s a sad day when I don’t learn something new while on rounds or doing research. Finally, don’t be shy about saying “I don’t know” or asking questions.

What’s your single best piece of advice for young RTs just starting out today and why?

John Rutkowski: Be a professional. That may not be what you think. It is not about credentials, it’s not about academics, it is not about the money. It is what you cause others to think about you because of your everyday behavior and action. Someday, you may never know who thought it, or when, you will be considered a professional.

Jack Fried: Demonstrate commitment to your profession, your patients, and your employer. Show people you are happy to be there. Be prepared to work the major holidays and don’t sulk. No one wants to hear you complain, especially on the holiday or weekend they too are working. Keep your ego in check. You are not so important you don’t have to work odd shifts, nor are you too important to thank the housekeepers for being there with you.

Terry Forrette: Stay current with literature and research. Use evidence-based medicine to make decisions. Don’t rely on the old mantra, “we do this because we’ve always done it that way.”