Debbie is in her forties and graduated from Algonquin College over 20 years ago. Since then, changes in disease, technology and health care have kept her career as a respiratory therapist exciting and challenging. She is currently employed full-time at a pediatric hospital.
Stephanie: What made you decide to become a respiratory therapist? How did you become a respiratory therapist?
Debbie: After one year in a Bachelor of Science program at university, I was looking for a more job-focused education. I was considering nursing when a friend suggested respiratory therapy because of the great job prospects. I took a three-year college diploma at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Now respiratory therapy is also available as a degree-level university program.
I would recommend looking closely at the university programs because a degree will open more doors for advanced education, if you are interested. In any case, make sure the program you choose prepares you for the certification exams (national and/or provincial).
Stephanie: What does a respiratory therapist do?
Debbie: Although I have chosen to specialize in pediatric lung function testing and asthma education, there are lots of varied aspects within respiratory therapy. Check out the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists’ Web site at http://www.csrt.com/whatis/index.htm to find out more about what we do, and what education is required. Most RT jobs are hospital-based, but there are opportunities outside hospitals (such as home care, pharmaceutical companies, or suppliers).
Stephanie: What do you like about what your job?
Debbie: Personally, I like working in pediatrics. Pediatric lung disease is not a result of years of smoking. In addition, I like the balance between health science and technology that RT offers.
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of your job?
Debbie: Juggling the demands of shift work, on-call and daycare for young children can be a hassle at times. Specialization within RT can be a double-edged sword - you can become "expert" in an area of interest, but at the same time it may limit your portability.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a respiratory therapist?
Debbie: I recommend you choose carefully the college and university programs. If I had to do it again, I would choose the university degree program. (Unfortunately there were no degree programs available when I trained). In the past few years I have dabbled in the epidemiology master's program at the University of Ottawa, but despite my academic success the lack of a degree is a major stumbling block.
Overall, I recommend that you select your career choice wisely (with more forethought than I did!), and try to keep as broad a focus as possible, to keep yourself marketable. Few people these days stay in a life-long career. Life-long learning is an expectation as well as a responsibility, so make sure you choose a program that interests you now and that you can build on in future.
Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to do what you do? What kind of education did you get?
Debbie: If you’re applying from high school, you’ll need math, sciences (biology, chemistry and physics). A technical aptitude really helps.
Once you’re enrolled in the RT program, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, electronics, physics, math, and medicine makes up a significant proportion of the curriculum. There were also lots of "hands on" labs to develop skills with the technical devices used in respiratory therapy.
Bilingualism (French/English) is an asset in the region where I wanted to live, so I took night school courses in French at college.
Once you've graduated, you'll still need to do the provincial/national certification exam(s) in order to be licensed to work.
Stephanie: What is your favourite colour, and why?
Debbie: Pink! Because that's what colour your skin is when you're breathing well.
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