Why Specializing in Neonatal Respiratory Care Was Right for Me

Michelle Donahoo, RRT-NPSAARC member Michelle Donahoo, RRT-NPS, shares her story of specializing in neonatal respiratory care.

By Michelle Donahoo, RRT-NPS

After graduating from high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, so I went to work for my family’s plumbing and air conditioning business. My grandmother, who also worked for the business when I was growing up, had COPD.

I watched her go through what I now know as the typical COPD course. She loved her RCPs and talked about them a lot during her many hospital stays. I finally decided to become a respiratory care practitioner.

I graduated from Modesto Junior College in 2000 and started working at Dignity Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton. I worked in all areas and appreciated how they were all special in what they required of an RCP.

Enter the NICU

About six months into being an RCP, I trained for several shifts in the NICU. I loved the autonomy I found in the NICU — we were able to perform NRP at delivery, do procedures like endotracheal intubation, and go on transports. I found that in the NICU I was able to really utilize my critical thinking skills and be an active team member to improve the patient’s outcome.

I’ve always tried my best to excel at everything I do. Five years into being a RRT I decided to take the Neonatal Pediatric Specialty (NPS) exam. I felt that having this credential would help my credibility as an RCP.

I then moved to Lincoln, CA, and applied to transfer to the Dignity Health-Mercy San Juan Medical Center NICU as the regional NICU respiratory care specialist. As a regional employee I’d travel to five hospitals in the Sacramento area and provide education for NRP, STABLE, respiratory devices, mock codes, and policies and procedures, as well as do quality improvement. Four of the hospitals have a level I nursery and Mercy San Juan Medical Center has a level III NICU.

Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was a nightshift RCP who never really knew what educators did. But I was up for the challenge and decided I would enjoy providing education and implementing evidence based guidelines.

This is the position for me

I had a great CNS mentor, Gale Schmaltz, who helped me with all the steps in policy and procedure development, taught me how to hold a class and what classes were needed, and helped me establish competency of the staff on an initial and ongoing basis.

I had my hands full and still do. Although difficult and stressful, I feel that this is the position for me. I enjoy implementing change and making a difference in the staff’s practice so they can ultimately make a difference in the patient’s outcomes. I tell the staff, “I’m here for you. You are here for the patient.”

The NICU is a great place to work. It is rewarding to see the babies of all sizes rapidly improve based off of our teamwork. The neonatal world is changing so fast, but I’m just one article or project behind — I’m sure of it!

Michelle Donahoo is the NICU respiratory care specialist at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, CA

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