Want A Job That Challenges And Inspires? Meet This Respiratory Therapist

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Respiratory therapist Kimby Powell with a ventilator
'I love being able to help them with their breathing issues and to know that I have made a difference in their lives,' says Kimby Powell. (Credit: Courtesy Kimby Powell)

Kimby Powell is a walking, talking PSA for respiratory therapy, but not for the reason you might think. She's a therapist who wants to get the word out about what a satisfying job this can be. 

The 55-year-old is a respiratory care services supervisor at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, but no matter what other tasks she has in a day, she always comes back to the core: helping people with respiratory treatments. 

She has been a respiratory therapist for nine years, and has held a leadership position for the last four. 

Why did you get into respiratory therapy?

I got into this line of work to be a part of a unique, growing profession that makes a huge impact in saving people’s lives in so many ways. 

What does a typical day for a respiratory therapist look like?

For me, a typical day starts by dealing with any urgent matters that may need addressing. Then, I check to see what staff assignments have been made and what the workload is first thing in the morning. I loop through to see who needs help, if any, and start working my way down the various floors helping my staff with respiratory treatments, etc. As a supervisor I have meetings to attend, reports to get out, payroll to do, policies to review/rewrite and a number of other administrative tasks to perform. Even so, I try to respond to codes [emergency situations], do transports, take assignments and help staff any way I can when I have time. I never want to walk away from patient care 100%, but I have taken on a leadership role in order to make positive changes and push the profession forward.

What do you like most about your job?

What I like most about my job is the interaction with patients. I love being able to help them with their breathing issues and to know that I have made a difference in their lives.

What do you like least about your job?

What I like least about my job is that we are not able to save everyone.

What do you wish you had known about the job before you got into it?

Due to the experiences and exposure to the profession that I obtained working as a respiratory aid, I knew a lot about the job before I got into it. But little did I know that that temporary job as a respiratory aide would be a stepping stone to the most rewarding career I could have ever imagined.

How did you train to become a respiratory therapist?

I trained for this job by obtaining an associate degree in respiratory care. (I also have a bachelor of science degree in exercise science, which has aided in pulmonary rehab. I also have earned certification as a Smokeless Instructor and completion of the AARC’s COPD Educator Course.)

What personality traits would make someone a good fit for this job?

A person who is a good fit for this job would be someone who has great critical thinking skills, great assessment skills, great time management skills, great communication skills, an eagerness to continue learning and a compassion for people.

Why would you recommend someone go into this line of work?

I would recommend someone go into this line of work because it is one of the most rewarding professions there is. Every day is an adventure. You never know what’s going to come through the door if you work in a hospital. It’s fast-paced and you are continually growing in this role. There is so much to learn beyond school, in the real world. It will challenge you, make you grow, push you to your limits, inspire you, humble you and have you walking away feeling great satisfaction when you know you’ve done your best and your best made the difference in someone else’s life. There is no greater joy than that!

Can you describe one particular moment or day on the job that gave you real satisfaction?

Yes, a particular moment that gave me real satisfaction was when I first started in this profession. I had a patient with a number of the signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, yet they were accounted for as something less serious. After assessing my patient, I went to the pulmonologist, and told him that we really needed to look into the possibility of this patient having a pulmonary embolism, due to her symptoms. He said, “Okay, we can look into that.” Later that day the pulmonologist pulled me aside and said, “Great call on your assessment of your patient. You were right, she does have a pulmonary embolism, and you probably saved her life.”  I said, “Thank you,” but on the inside I was like, “YES! Nailed it!  This is what I got into this profession for! To make a difference and save lives!” I have never forgotten that moment, nor that feeling.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing? 

I would be doing a lot more volunteer work. I’ve always had a calling to help those in need and spent many years doing so on missions trips in the USA.

What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your work?

The nicest thing that I’ve had multiple patients say to me when I finish working with them is, “You are truly an angel. You are so compassionate and truly caring, and you are good at what you do. Thank you so much.”

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

No one can predict where they will be in five to 10 years! I just hope that I will still be learning and growing in this field, as well as continuing to make a difference in people’s lives. My advice for others considering this field: Two to four years from now you can either be pondering what to do with your life or you can be embarking on the lifetime of adventure in an exciting new career while making good money. Either way, those two to four years are going to come and go. The question is, what will you be doing with your life in two to four years? (I mention that time frame because some programs are still two-year programs but a number of them have become four-year programs.)

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