Career Enrichment: Taking Asthma Education into the Schools

photo of stack of books with apple on top with classroom desks in background

According to the CDC, 8.4% of children in the U.S. are currently living with asthma, and the figure is even higher for children in the 5-19 age range. In that group, 10% of children have the condition.

With that level of prevalence, it’s a good bet that every school in America has at least some children with asthma, and since children spend so much of their day in school, ensuring schools are asthma safe is paramount. Respiratory care departments that get involved in fostering that safety can do much to enrich the careers of their staffs.

Taking the lead

Susan Wynn, MSM, RRT, and her colleagues at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, IN, decided to take the lead on that score when they worked with a local school system to foster the first ever “Asthma Friendly School” in the state of Indiana.

“We went to school enrollment night and discussed asthma action plans and answered questions of students and parents,” Wynn said, who serves as the hospital’s director of respiratory care and sleep services. All grades were in attendance, from K through 12.

Wynn says the information was most appreciated by the parents of the younger children, those in grades K-5.

After the education night, the hospital helped the school acquire the tools it would need to ensure appropriate asthma care for its students.

“We assisted the school in getting donated nebulizers, spacers, and air compressors,” Wynn said.

They also spent time educating teachers and other staff about practices that could be putting their students with asthma at risk, using materials from the American Lung Association.

“The Asthma Friendly Schools project impacted teachers burning candles and using Glade scented air fresheners in the classrooms to alleviate odors, etc.,” she said.

Wynn says parents of asthmatic children were greatly appreciative of the efforts her hospital expended to help ensure their children would be safe from asthma triggers at school and in the hands of teachers, coaches, and other school staff who had been educated about caring for children with asthma during the school day.

No smoking for pigs

Educating children about asthma can enrich the careers of RT faculty and the students they are training too. Cayce Hendrix, MA, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, and her colleagues at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, have been doing just that for a number of years now.

“The respiratory care students implement an asthma camp each year called Camp Catch Your Breath of the Midlands,” Hendrix said. “A faculty member and a few students first go to several elementary schools to do 1.5 hours of hands-on asthma education for the 3rd-5th graders.”

A month later the children attend the camp as a daylong field trip, where they learn even more about the condition and how to keep it under control.

Hendrix has enjoyed taking part in the program and says her students love delivering the education through activities, crafts, and games geared especially to asthma.

The children are always fun to be around, and sometimes they end up leaving everyone in stitches.

“My favorite remark came from a third grader after seeing healthy and unhealthy pig lungs,” Hendrix said. “I asked the kids, ‘What did you learn today?’ Her response was, ‘Pigs shouldn’t smoke!’ Priceless!”

Math teacher gives an assist

Participating in asthma education for children can inspire RTs in more unexpected ways as well.

Eula Lewis, BS, RRT, NCTTS, AE-C, is the outpatient clinic coordinator for respiratory care services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center in San Francisco, CA. She recently attended a Health Careers Conference at Life Academy in Oakland where one of those moments took place.

“Most of the students attending were minority students from Oakland,” she explains. One attendee who especially stood out to her was a math teacher who told his students he would show up at the event if they did.

“During our talk about asthma, the pharmacist started talking about the half-life of medication,” Lewis said. “The math teacher immediately tied this into calculations they were currently studying in class. I felt his example brought life to the area of study.”

Keep the conversation going

May is Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month, and that makes it a good time to share your stories about going out into the community to educate people about the condition. Share and discuss your ideas on AARConnect.