If I Knew Then What I Know Now


While formal graduation ceremonies may be on hold right now due to COVID-19, new respiratory therapists will soon be leaving the relative security of their educational programs to embark on their careers in the profession. What advice do seasoned therapists have for their new colleagues? We asked AARC members to share the single most important thing they wish they had known when they were starting out in the field.

Jeff Anderson, MA, RRT, from Idaho, recommends new therapists seek out experience in diverse areas of respiratory care before settling on a specialty.

“This is actually how my career developed by accident, and it turned into a great way to develop as a professional,” he said.  “Ultimately I had the opportunity to begin teaching, and diverse experience has been a real benefit since one can’t always teach about one specific area of our field.”

Steven Alfaro, RRT, says he wishes he had recognized the value in networking with his fellow therapists earlier on in his career.

“It took me three years before getting my first per diem job, and that was through a coworker at my full-time employer,” said the Connecticut therapist. “I did not realize that all of my coworkers were windows of opportunity to the RT world.”

He says stepping out into the per diem environment is how he became proficient in pulmonary function and stress testing.

“Continue with your education, and along your journey, make sure that you learn something from every clinician and classmate that you may interact with,” Alfaro said.

Brian Cayko, MBA, RRT, FAARC, from Montana, says his best bit of advice for young therapists is to go ahead and advance their degrees.

“There is no better time to continue your education than right now and it will only become more difficult the older you get, as your family grows, and the more responsibility you take on,” he said.

While an advanced degree does have to be coupled with experience in the field, those who acquire a higher degree soon after graduating will position themselves for promotions when the time comes.

“If you are waiting to advance your degree until you are in a position that requires it, you will likely never be considered for that promotion in the first place,” Cayko said. “Get your degree now and be ready for the doors to start opening.” ​

Amber McVeigh, MS, BSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, says it’s important for young RTs to realize they need to go back to school and get a higher degree too, and she urges them to start and never stop reading journal articles as well.

“When looking for articles always remember to focus on both sides of an argument,” advised the North Carolina therapist. “Research the stance you want and the opposition with an open mind.  This way you are truly informed on the subject.”

Michael Holbert, RRT, RPFT, wants young therapists to focus on the patient in front of them and how they and their families may be feeling as they deal with whatever respiratory condition has brought them in for care.

“Compassion is the critical piece that is hard to teach,” said Holbert, who works in Washington State. “I hope I have not failed in that regard, but it is the cornerstone of all other career advice that might be given.”

Susan Wynn, MSM, BSRT, BSBA, RRT, says she wishes she had had access to the kind of information RTs have today via the Internet to valid the authenticity of all the things she was hearing about the “real world” of respiratory care.

“I joined the AARC as a student and have never let my membership lapse, but internet was not available like it is today at that time,” said the Indiana RT.

Now she turns to AARConnect and other online resources from the AARC and others to provide the knowledge she needs to ensure best practices are being followed. Of course, you still have to be careful.

“So many offerings are out there now,” Wynn said. “If there is no reference source — and one that you validated as matching the information — it should not be used as validated information.”

Monique Steffani, MS, RRT, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, C-NPT, from California, would advise her younger self to advance her education earlier than she did, and she would also tell herself to go ahead and get actively involved in advocating for her profession and her patients.

“Understand legislation, volunteer with your state and national societies, instead of sitting by the wayside,” she said. “I would tell myself that there is so much going on in the trenches that you won’t learn about until you dive in head first, so be a part of what helps our chosen paths in respiratory grow beyond our wildest dreams. Be the future, now.”

Kim Bennion, MsHS, RRT, CHC, says the best career advice she ever got came from her mother, who told her this: “Never accept an obstacle as immovable, and never wait for someone else to arrive to move it.”

Bennion says her mother not only espoused that mantra, but lived by it, and over the years it taught her to view obstacles not as permanent barriers but as things that can be overcome.

“My mind goes into overtime to find solutions,” said the Utah RT.

Cheers to the new grads

So, congratulations to all the new grads out there who are getting ready to start their first jobs in the profession. Listen to and learn from the experienced RTs you meet and consider how you can put their best advice to work in your career. And as Steven Alfaro told us, realize that one day you too will be a seasoned veteran sharing your early experiences in the profession with others as well.

“People know each other in the RT world and it’s great to share those ‘back in the day’ stories,” he says. “Now, COVID has turned my small community hospital into a facility with multiple ICUs on multiple floors. I cannot wait till the time when COVID becomes one of those stories. Good luck and be safe grads!”

Heading to the New Era

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