Megan Bacik of Wayne cheerfully acknowledges that when she was in high school she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, a favorite line of many high school students. "I floated through high school, although I did always know that I wanted to do something in the health care field," says Megan, whose mother and aunt have careers as nurses.
While training on the job after high school to be a dental assistant, Megan also began taking part-time courses at Bergen Community College in Paramus. Megan originally thought she'd enter BCC's dental-hygiene program.
Life, though, doesn't always go as planned. To her dismay, Megan discovered she wasn't thrilled about being confined inside a dental office all day. At the same time she was coming to that realization, instructors from the Respiratory Therapy Program at BCC were promoting careers in respiratory therapy. "The photos of the equipment used and the descriptions of the work sparked my interest," recalls Megan. She also realized that respiratory therapists go to patients in hospitals--traveling to different floors and patient units--something that appealed to Megan's need for activity and mobility.
Megan discussed her newfound interest with her mother, asking for more information about what respiratory therapists do. Soon after, she was accepted for admission to the respiratory therapy program at Bergen Community College.
Fortunately, the core courses toward an associate's degree in dental hygiene matched those for an associate's degree in respiratory therapy and included science courses, such as anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Megan was able to concentrate the second half of her coursework on the required respiratory therapy courses.
After Megan met the core-course requirements, such as chemistry and biology with labs and algebra, she took courses in respiratory therapy, clinical medicine, pharmacology for respiratory therapists, cardiopulmonary anatomy and physiology plus management in health care. She also completed several externships, which gave her on-the-job clinical experience in hospitals. The best part of most academic majors in the health field is the practical experience a student receives with hospital patients. It truly prepares them for their first job.
Some advice from Megan to high school students who may want to become respiratory therapists:
- Take as many high school science classes as you can and work hard so that you build a foundation of basic knowledge for the courses you will take in college.
- Volunteer or get a job in a hospital so you can decide whether you like being around patients and the work atmosphere before you start your college education in a program like respiratory therapy.
- Ask yourself whether you're a nurturing type of a person who wants to take care of people.
- Although Megan has been in the workforce a short time, she loves her job. It has already had an impact on her life. After caring for patients who have been long-time cigarette smokers and are now struggling to breathe, Megan put out her cigarettes for good.