Retirement, Redefined

retiring respiratory therapist
Baby boomers have a reputation for shaking things up. From their earliest days as the largest generation ever seen, through their young adult years working for women’s rights and social justice, to their peak earning years where the pursuit of the American Dream became all-consuming, they’ve done things their way.

It should come as no surprise, then, that they are redefining retirement too, and in many cases that means not really retiring at all in the true sense of the word. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence of that right here in the AARC.

Like going to the gym

Michael Holbert, RPFT, is a great example. A month after he retired from his job as the pulmonary diagnostic lead at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis, NM, so that he and his wife could move closer to their daughter and grandchildren, Holbert was back in the workforce, helping a company review quality control data for research projects on a part-time basis at home.

When that job ended a year later, he decided to jump back into pulmonary diagnostics, taking on part-time work in local PF labs. “Why go back to the PF lab?” he asks. “Partly money, partly not wanting to give up some exposure to clinical work, and maybe a little altruism of wanting to give back from the experience I’ve gained over the years.”

He says he really enjoys doing PFTs at the three clinics he currently covers as an on-call back-up.

“I show up, do some tests, and go home,” Holbert said. “That is not to say it is always easy – the shifts can be busy and a little demanding, but mostly in a good or challenging way, like going to the gym.”

Would he recommend a return to work to other RTs who have retired from the profession?

“I say do it,” Holbert said. “The initial steps of applying, orienting, and being an old newbie were intimidating, but eventually worth the discomfort.”

Refreshing and rewarding

Joseph Horne, RPFT, decided he would be going back to work part-time in his pulmonary function lab even before he retired from his full-time job at Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, CT, four months ago.

“After 40-plus years I wanted to continue to share my experience and knowledge with staff,” said Horne, who previously served as lab manager. “I find returning to work in my new limited capacity refreshing and rewarding.”

Horne especially enjoys helping new staff with their orientations and he is always looking for opportunities to teach.

“In some ways, I feel a sense of responsibility to give back,” he said, “and support the lab I once supervised and helped develop.”

Perfect arrangement

Karen Holler, RRT, CPFT, made the transition from full-time to PRN in 2016 and is glad she did.

“As a full-time RT I spent three days a week in cardiopulmonary rehab and two days in the PFT lab,” explained the therapist at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, VA. “In semi-retirement, I work one afternoon per week, exclusively in the PFT lab.”

She says the arrangement suits her perfectly. In fact, with the limited schedule, she finds her energy levels are good and testing patients is nearly always a positive experience.

“I enjoy still being part of the hospital, but love that it is not full-time,” she said. While retirement is great, too much of it may not be the best thing, she continued. “Honestly, it takes getting used to and not becoming a couch potato.”

Best of both worlds

The retirement journey for Phil Finch, RRT, RRT-NPS, has been a long and winding one. After saying goodbye to his position on the respiratory care faculty at Concorde Career College in Portland, OR, a few years ago, he devoted himself to flipping houses for a while, then became responsible for the care of an elderly brother with Alzheimer’s disease.

A year and a half later, his brother’s care became too much for him to handle and he placed him in special care. He had gone back to flipping houses when one day his former program director called to ask if he would rejoin the college team. His answer was a resounding “yes.”

“After more than 40 years of working in adult care, pediatrics, neonatal, air and ground transport, as a traveler, as a department manager, and in education, I wanted to continue the work of the most rewarding vocation I could imagine, respiratory care,” Finch said.

That was in 2016, and this past year saw another type of “retirement” for the long-time RT.

“Completing my bachelor’s degree became my focus, and that milestone should occur this May,” Finch said. “Once again, I wish to teach, but in this case, I wish to utilize Blackboard or Canvas as my classroom from my semi-retirement home in New Mexico, where I have planted orchards, vineyards, and where I can conduct plant research, my avocation.”

It’s the best of both worlds for Finch.

“I believe those of us who have had such a rich life of work experiences should impart wisdom and didactic or clinical knowledge to those joining the field,” he said. “I recently studied a gerontology course and concluded that semi-retired persons can indeed add much to society, especially as a respiratory care health specialist, sharing respiratory therapy knowledge with, and enthusiastically mentoring, newcomers to the field.”

Old dog, new tricks

For Hjalmer Lofstrom, RRT, retirement from his full-time job at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oregon eight years ago gave him the chance to segue into an exciting new role in the profession: flight therapist.

“I had checked into being an on-call flight RRT before retirement,” Lofstrom said, “and, to see if it was a good fit, I had covered flights for a few months before retiring.”

He now works as a flight RT at Lifeguard Air Ambulance/Premier Jets in Portland, where he has been able to apply the skills he acquired in the ICU, CCU, and ER environments during his long career. It’s also giving him the chance to travel internationally, as some of his transports are out of the country.

Lofstrom believes work after retirement is something that other RTs could consider too, regardless of whether they need the money or not. “For me, the additional income was nice but not necessary,” he says. “The biggest reason was that I still had a passion for providing patient care.”

Nice transition

Sheila Shearer, RRT, AE-C, was barely out the door at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC, before her post-retirement job opportunity came along.

“I actually was offered a PRN position as soon as I retired,” said the long-time RT. “I decided to accept the position as the hours were flexible and I could work remotely. I also was very interested in the research.”

The position was made available through the behavioral medicine department at Duke, which is conducting a research study on post-operative lung transplant patients. Since Shearer had extensive experience working with these patients over her three decades at the facility, she was considered perfect for the job.

“I knew them well and was interested in participating in anything that might improve long term outcomes,” she said. “This is a nice transition for me.”

She believes health care, in general, offers a unique opportunity to work part-time in retirement that you often don’t find in other fields.

“Older, experienced therapists can contribute a lot, especially to mentor younger therapists in learning how to approach patient care in the best ways for patients to accept your knowledge and advice,” she said.

Interesting insights

Darla Sutton, RRT, isn’t a baby boomer, but among the people we spoke with for this article, she had been retired the longest before going back to work and she has some interesting insights to share.

“I became an RRT in 1990,” Sutton said. “I retired in 1996, due to having a baby.”

Between taking care of kids, then parents, then battling breast cancer, it would be many years before she was ready to reenter the field. Despite keeping her license and CEUs up to date all those years, it still took two long years of looking before she found her current job at a skilled nursing/ventilator rehab facility in Katy, TX.

“For now, I enjoy taking care of my patients at a slightly slower pace,” said the former ICU therapist.

Her advice to those considering retirement would be to keep one foot in the door with a PRN position if possible.

Maintain those credentials!

Working after retirement is clearly a great option for many therapists, but Sutton’s experience highlights the need to keep up with your credentialing and licensing requirements if you do plan to reenter the field at some point.

Robert C. Shaw, Jr., PhD, vice president of examinations at the NBRC, reminds us all that the long-standing practice of issuing RT credentials for life ended in 2002, and that means younger people in the profession who may be considering part-time work in their own retirements need to be cognizant of the fact that they will have to keep those credentials current even after they retire if they want to keep the door open to that possibility.

Dr. Shaw points our readers to the Document Library at nbrc.org for the information they need.

“There are two clusters of information about the Credential Maintenance Program,” he said. “If there are other questions to be answered, then we have people here who can answer them.”