Career Enrichment: Reaching Out to K-12 Schools

grade school kids raising their hands in classroom


With children back in school or heading there shortly in most areas of the country, now is a great time for respiratory therapists to consider how they can enrich their careers by reaching out to K-12 schools to provide respiratory-related education and information to children. Ten AARC members tell how they did it and what the experience has meant to them —

Kristina Greenwaldt, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, credits her sister for getting her involved in a Career Day at an elementary/middle school in her area.

“My sister is a PE teacher at this school,” she explained. “I love going to the different classrooms and explaining the role of a respiratory therapist to these young students. They always have a ton of questions and love to participate in the activities.”

She takes healthy and smokers pigs lungs with her and the children enjoy seeing them hooked up to an ambu bag and watching her inflate them. Other “tools of the trade” she brings along include incentive spirometers, placebo MDIs, endotubes, OPEP/Acapella devices, and lots of disposable mouthpieces so the students can try them out for themselves.

“On top of explaining our role, I also take literature about e-cigarettes and a pamphlet from York College School of Respiratory Therapy,” said the Pennsylvania RT. “The college pamphlet has a list of all the classes for a respiratory student.”

How it enriches her career: When you explain your career in detail to someone it becomes a reminder of how involved and complex your career can be. It gives you a new appreciation for your career. I love to see the excitement from the kids. They always ask excellent questions and I often find myself learning something from them in return.

David Wolfe, RRT, RRT-SDS, RPSGT, was asked to be a member of a wellness panel at a junior high school in his community to answer questions about sleep, and he has also volunteered for a career fair held for 7th graders.

“My daughter encouraged me to do it, so I talked about the respiratory care profession and answered respiratory- and sleep-related questions,” said the New York therapist. “I also gave the students an opportunity to try CPR on a manikin.”

How it’s enriched his career: Part of being a health professional is helping within the community. This was a great opportunity to do this.

Rachael Chappell, BSRT, RRT, has taken respiratory education into YMCA after-school programs, teaching the kids about conditions like asthma and helping them understand the dangers inherent in smoking. On the last day of the program, she brought in pigs lungs for the kids to dissect.

“The children loved all of these activities,” she said. The Utah RT also generated some interest in the profession along the way. “When I was younger, I knew I wanted to work in health care and I discovered that many of the children had similar desires.”

How it’s enriched her career: This experience helped me with my leadership skills. I coordinated and set schedules with the YMCA groups. I also recruited other volunteers for this program. I loved how engaged children can be with learning through activities. I think that this experience helped me find my passion for working with children.

Douglas E. Masini, EdD, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RPFT, AE-C, FCCP, FAARC, has been working with health occupations groups since the late 1970s in an effort to spread the word about the critical role RTs play in the health care system. Since the 2000s, he’s been actively involved with Healthcare Explorer posts in Southeast Georgia.

“We do hands-on scenarios on my simulation labs,” he said.

Over the past five years, he’s taken that education to the Junior Explorers as well.

“Demonstrating and allowing participation in our skillset shows what we do as hands-on health care providers and plants that seed that may grow into a caring vocation,” Dr. Masini said.

He has established a summer camp for rising juniors in high school too, which has ended up recruiting some amazing talent into his RT program at Georgia Southern University – Armstrong Campus.

How it’s enriched his career: I think we are responsible for replacing ourselves on this Earth. I always have an ascendancy plan at work for who will replace me when I am gone. I use the analogy of a bucket of water. Stick your fist into the bucket, then quickly draw your hand back and notice you didn’t leave a hole in the water, as nature always fills a void. I see all of us as capable of filling that void by getting out there and attracting smart, young potential respiratory therapists.

Misty Carlson, MS, RRT, goes out to local high schools and middle schools in her Florida community to talk to children about everything from respiratory care as a career to the dangers of smoking.

“We bring the pig lungs and show and talk about smoking,” she said. “We also bring stethoscopes, pulse oximeters, and a head and intubation equipment.”

She regularly visits with kids taking part in medical academies at the high school and middle school level as well and says one of those students has actually gone on to become an RT and now works at an area trauma center.

“These students are fun to talk to and have been the most fulfilling,” she said.

How it’s enriched her career: I chose to be an educator because I love to teach and share my knowledge. I enjoy seeing students have the lightbulb go off and really understand a concept. I enjoy the questions they ask and the comments I get. I enjoy letting them listen to the heart and lungs or even seeing the pig lungs and how smoking damages them. I also enjoy taking my students on some of these outings to allow them to become the teacher and show what they have learned, which makes me a proud professor.

Betty-Pauline Gradillas, MEd, RRT, first got involved in this type of community service back in her AS RT program.

“A classmate and I chose to do a lecture to schools about smoking, asthma, etc.,” she said. “This one lecture morphed into more than a decade of presentations to all age groups, K-12.”

She was working at a teaching facility at the time that had a pathology department that provided her with a “teaching box” full of body parts, so she always had various types of lung tissue, hearts, aortas, and sometimes brain to show the children.

“If I got a brain, I would also discuss seatbelt and helmet safety,” said Gradillas, who is now an educator in California. “These were always great interactive lessons with the students.”

How it’s enriched her career: It gave me an appreciation of what happens at home with asthma patients. Some were very candid about their homes, parents smoking, dirt floors, numerous animals, and depending on the side of town, overall cleanliness. It helped me as a bedside practitioner with my approach to asthma education and how I approached parents and their smoking habits. I think I learned as much from them as they did from me.

Dustin Goodman, BAS, RRT, RRT-NPS, decided to get involved with his local schools to share his passion for the profession. Through a Wisconsin Society for Respiratory Care initiative aimed at K-12 outreach, he’s presented during school-wide sessions, addressing vaping and also what it means to be an RT and why kids should consider joining the profession when they grow up.

“I feel that our profession is sometimes overlooked because the advisors or counselors really do not know what a respiratory therapist is,” he said. “By being involved it gave our communities a resource to not only help our youth with career and college planning, but it gave them a resource to help with current issues their district may be having, such as the vaping pandemic.”

How it’s enriched his career: It’s incredible to talk to the young minds about exciting advancements in our profession and where we have come from and where we are going. These students have a drive that can be very refreshing to those doing outreach. Not only is it a resume builder for some, but it gives a new perspective.

Jan Arrasmith, MBM, RRT, requires her RT students to do community service and works with Southwest District Health in Idaho to present “Tar Wars” to fifth-grade classes during the school year.

“Tar Wars is a tobacco and nicotine prevention program for kids,” she explained. “It was developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians.”

While she got involved to provide a volunteer outlet for her students, she feels strongly that public service is a duty of all RTs.

“Especially with vaping, we are informing kids of the dangers before they hit that influential age of middle school,” Arrasmith said. “If the presentation stops one kid from starting to vape, it is worth the time.”

How it’s enriched her career: This experience has helped to serve my community in the public awareness arena. I think anytime we can possibly stop lung disease that is caused by a life choice, that is a great feat. This also provides that philanthropic duty as a professional experience I try to instill in my students. I am not only talking to them about it but showing them the importance and that it is a fun experience. You never know what comments you will get from a class full of fifth graders!

Tim Gilmore, PhD, RRT, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, CPFT, AE-C, has taken his Louisiana State University students into underserved areas to talk to teachers and kids about asthma, serving breakfast and giving out free spacers and peak flow meters.

“It was a very positive experience — I know I left with a feeling that we may have given the parents a bit more confidence in knowing asthma could be managed through proper monitoring, etc.,” he said.

But the volunteer event that stands out most in his mind took place in a large auditorium filled with kids from local elementary schools.

“In seeking to make a lifelong impact, I started my talk in an unconventional way — I lit a cigarette in front of the large audience and quickly collapsed to the ground as it touched my mouth,” he said. “My point was that if cigarettes had a dramatic, immediate effect, no one would smoke, but smoking has long-term and slow degrading effects . . . I would hope many were talked out of ever considering smoking that day.”

How it’s enriched his career: Anytime I have had a chance to work with children, it has affected me deeply. Medicine and health care, in general, have the purpose to relieve suffering. Knowing that you may have had an impact on a child to make their breathing easier or their quality of life better is one of the greatest feelings in the world. It helps confirm you are in the right profession and inspires you to seek out more opportunity to impact your community.

Cheri Sims, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, has delivered respiratory sessions to children in kindergarten through fifth grade, tailoring the presentations to the children’s level of understanding. The younger children learn about the stethoscope and may also get to see pigs lungs in action. Older students who are studying the human body in class receive more in-depth instruction on the workings of the lung. In addition to going to schools, Sims has also worked with Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts troops on their first aid badges and first aid kits.

“My demonstration and talks have triggered conversations about kids suffering from asthma who feel comfortable talking about how they are affected and how they treat their asthma,” she said. “They also talk about loved ones struggling with respiratory ailments and concerns for their health.”

Fifth graders who see the smokers lungs and have parents or close relatives who smoke are especially touched by the presentations.

How it’s enriched her career: I pursued my career as a respiratory therapist 25 years ago because I wanted to be an advocate for those who struggle with asthma. I have since become a pioneer for asthma education in peds/PICU and prevention of chronic lung disease in the NICU. Education is wealth in making every breath count.

Heading to the New Era

Elevate | Engage | Advocate | Educate