by Jeffrey Waldman RN, RRT
After high school I was inclined to study business at the local community college and see what opportunities were there to make a living. I completed an associate degree in business. However, my father had met a gentleman at the gym who was a respiratory therapist. The allied health fields for employment were promising and interesting. I had a fondness for working with the geriatric population and I immediately enrolled in an associate degree program for respiratory therapy.
I enjoyed the respiratory program because it was very career specific and very pertinent to job related skills. Business was too abstract for career opportunities. Respiratory school was challenging, especially clinically. However, hospital training rotations made employment an easy transition. I started working nights at a large community medical center, and began to get independently comfortable with my skills. Day shift was available one year later. The day shift offered much more learning and stimulation to my job. A year or two later a supervisory position was open at a nearby extended care ventilator unit. I worked there for three years. There were great nurses there who motivated me to continue my education. A nursing career was the logical choice to increase my career opportunities.
I returned to college to matriculate full-time in an RN program while my wife worked full time in a non-medical field. The nursing program was more challenging. The information was much greater. Even with years of medical exposure, all of that studying felt overwhelming. That feeling that would continue into my career as an RN. But, I excelled clinically and received much recognition in my nursing program.
My first nursing job was in an surgical intensive care unit at a university medical center. That was a sensible choice since I had a “high tech” background, right? It again was overwhelming. The hospital gave me a six month orientation. Even so, both the orientation and job was too much to deal with. I worked side by side with twenty year veteran RNs who were still overwhelmed. At that point I reconsidered that nursing may not be the career for me. I had never felt that way as a respiratory care practitioner. The most significant reason for my anxiety was the huge difference between the role of the RN and RT. RNs just have so much to deal with in the management of the patient. After a full twelve hour day shift of nursing I had nothing left to give at home. If I was younger and did not have a marriage with a newborn child it might have been different. I still felt that my primary career was respiratory therapy. The pay was equal and the shifts were the same. I came to the conclusion that even if I was not overwhelmed I would rather be an RT. I enjoyed the specialty of respiratory therapy in the acute care setting. I now regard most nurses as champions. I have a greater respect for all nurses. I briefly considered a nurse anesthesia specialty but I learned that the education was extremely demanding and the programs were difficult to get into.
My young family was a priority. I couldn’t do both. I did not enjoy being a nurse. My respiratory roots were much deeper and more meaningful. It was also much more manageable. I saw myself as more diversified and a great resource for nurses. I returned to my original employer where I could participate in many diversified respiratory roles. I teach a number of courses for nurses and help with their transition into the ICU. I am also an adjunct clinical instructor for the respiratory program which I had graduated.
I have been happily married for 18 years and have two beautiful daughters, ages seven and eleven. I am very happy with my life choices. Respiratory therapy has given me many rewarding experiences both in my profession and for my family. I perceive that in five years I will be happy in the same career. Sometimes it takes some exploring to figure this out, but such is life.
Editor’s Note: “Not a Job, an Adventure” is a regular column in the SCOPE newsletter for Respiratory Care Practitioners. We welcome our readers to submit a clinical story of interest to our website NJSRC.org. We reserve the right to choose articles appropriate for our membership, and edit appropriately for posting in the newsletter.