High School Students “Major” in Respiratory Therapy

 Published: August 15, 2018

By: Heather Willden


photo of students studying lung

Most high school students take a wide variety of electives to find out what interests them most and what they might want to pursue as a career after graduation.

At Southwest Career and Technical Academy (SWCTA) in Las Vegas, NV, it gets a little more serious than that. Students who attend this academic center not only take a comprehensive load of core courses, they choose from one of 11 distinct programs where they concentrate on specific fields of study as well.

One of those fields is respiratory therapy, and Vicki Smith, BA, CRT, is the director of the program.

Four-year program

“I now have students who have completed their RT programs post-secondary and are working in the field,” Smith said. “It is amazing to see their progression and commitment.”

The program runs all four years of high school, with students progressing from RT 1 in ninth grade to RT 4 in their senior year. Smith designed the facility, wrote the curriculum, and teaches the classes. Students learn about respiratory equipment and infection control, and they all go through training to become certified in CPR.

She works with RTs out in the community to provide extensive job shadowing experiences for her students as well. Opportunities to shadow working RTs in intensive care, neonatal care, emergency air transport, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy have all been offered.

Community outreach

Smith gets her students involved in community outreach too.

“I am an extremely active member of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation here in Las Vegas, as well as Alpha 1,” she said. Her students help out with activities sponsored by those groups. Through their RT Club on campus, they also take tobacco education to local elementary schools and visit eighth-grade classes to promote the SWCTA RT program.

Smith says she uses her membership in the AARC and the Nevada Society for Respiratory Care, where she is currently a board member, to keep up with her own RT skills and make the connections she needs to deliver new opportunities to her students.

Her active involvement in HOSA, the international organization for students interested in health careers, figures heavily into her work as well.

Perfect for her

An RT since 1972, Smith left the field for about five years mid-career to become a kindergarten teacher, but she came back to RT when SWCTA learned she still had her RT license and asked her to expand their program to include RT.

“We opened in the fall of 2009 and I have been here ever since,” she said.

It’s been the perfect situation for her.

“I love using all my medical skills with my educational background to teach,” Smith said.

Keep the conversation going

How do you promote respiratory therapy to future RT students? Share your tips on AARConnect.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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