Ask respiratory therapists what drew them to the field and you’ll hear lots of stories similar to Sheri Tooley’s. “My sister is 13 years younger than I, and had very bad asthma as a child,” she says. “I met an exceptional respiratory therapist during one of her hospital admissions and I knew what I wanted to do.”
That was 30-some years ago, and Tooley, an AARC member who is now supervisor of respiratory therapy education at Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, NY, has been working to pay that exceptional therapist back by working to be exceptional herself ever since. Considering her long and illustrious career in RT, everyone who knows her would agree she’s succeeded.
In the following Q&A, Tooley shares some of the insights she’s gained along the way, and what she believes young RTs today need to do to make themselves stand out from the crowd as well.
Q: What were the requirements to enter the field when you first started out?
A: There were no requirements to enter the field when I started. Most of the individuals that I worked with were OJTs. I was one of a few with a formal education. Also at that time you were able to go to a certificate program without going on to get your associate degree.
Q: What does it take for someone to get an entry level position in your RT department today?
A: In our department today the minimum requirement for a staff therapist position is the RRT credential and to be licensed as a respiratory therapist in New York State.
Q: If you had to point to 2-3 factors that led to your success in the profession, what would they be and why?
A: It’s always the people you meet along the way. They either make or break your impression of respiratory and mine have been amazing since my first day!
The first was my RT program director, Claire Aloan, MSEd, RRT-NPS, FAARC. She pushed us to our fullest potential. She insisted that all of her students be AARC members — that was actually in our “list of required reading” — and we had assignments from the Journal. When I told her in my senior year that I didn’t like any of the clinical “options” (which were management, critical care, education, and rehab), she spoke with the attending neonatologist at the hospital and secured a neonatal clinical rotation for my last semester. I have loved and been involved in pediatric and neonatal respiratory care in one form or another for my entire career.
We remained friends and Claire is the one who got me involved in all of my professional activities, including the New York State Society for Respiratory Care, which led to my election as president, then as a New York representative to the AARC House of Delegates, and now to the AARC Board of Directors. I work for Claire today and she still supports all of my involvement with state and national activities.
My second would be all of the amazing, dedicated professionals I have met from all over the world. The individuals I have had the honor of working with the last 32 years have all had a very profound impact on my love of respiratory therapy. I love hearing all of their stories and ideas and they inspire me to want to be better and do more.
The third, and most important, for me would be the grateful parents, patients, and family members of the individuals that I have had the honor to serve. From the smallest preemies to the frailest elderly, knowing that I have made a positive impact on their lives is really what drives me. Whether it is critical care, end-of-life care, home care, or education to help them self-manage, at the end of the day a thank-you is all you need to hear to know you are in the right place.
Q: What do you think recent grads need to do to ensure a similar success in today’s health care environment?
A: They need to realize this is their profession — this isn’t just a job. They need to get involved anyway they can to contribute. Continue to learn and grow. Find a mentor and then be one! Treat everyone with respect; you never know what their story is and where you might end up.
Q: What advice would you give to a new grad just starting out in respiratory care today and why?
A: Dream with a vision. Find an area of respiratory therapy that you love and do the very best that you can for your patients every day! Network with your peers, look around the country at some of the amazing RTs that we have in this country and emulate what they do.
The future for respiratory therapy is very bright and evolving every day. Don’t get left behind. If you are in an area that just isn’t right for you any more, find a new one. We have so many areas of expertise in respiratory that you should never be bored.
And most importantly: be a member of your professional organization!