Respiratory therapists are one of healthcare’s vital but least recognized professions. However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought new attention to this specialty which focuses on a wide range of breathing disorders and diseases. October 25 – 31 is Respiratory Care Week 2020, and the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions Department of Respiratory Therapy celebrates this week by recognizing some of Georgia State’s RTs who have made a difference in the field.
Respiratory therapy alumnus Brian Kirkland has taken his career in a non-clinical direction. The 2001 bachelor’s degree graduate spent 19 years as a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) and now works in the medical device sales field. He is an account manager for Philips with a hospital respiratory care portfolio in western North Carolina.
Kirkland began his RT career at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston while a student. After graduating, he transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). He then began working on the transport team, caring for critically ill children moved from other hospitals to Children’s.
While at Children’s, Kirkland met his wife, who worked on staff as an RN.
“[In 2005], I swept her away to the mountains of western North Carolina to raise a family,” he said. Along with his wife, Lauren, Kirkland lives an active life with his four sons, ages 10, seven (twins) and nine months). “We are a very outdoor-oriented family and spend our time mountain biking the trails in Pisgah National Forest, where we live and kayaking the rivers and creeks amongst this incredible region.”
Kirkland worked at an Asheville area hospital, eventually moving into middle management, leading the children’s respiratory team. Eight years ago, he left that position for medical sales.
What initially drew you to a career in respiratory therapy?
My grandfather ended up in the hospital after having a stroke. While visiting him there, a [Georgia State] student RT came in to do an assessment and deliver a breathing treatment. It was then that I first learned about Respiratory Therapy and the rest is history.
Did you consider another healthcare field first?
What changes have you noticed in the RT field since you first began working?
The profession itself evolving with higher degree pathways along with new roles and opportunities. I remember pulmonary navigators first starting up before I left the hospital, and it took a lot of work to accomplish. Seeing the profession progress in these ways over the years is really great to see.
How has COVID-19 changed respiratory therapy?
One thing I’ve experienced is in regard to planning and preparation for such a pandemic. At the hospital and health system level, no one was really where they would have liked to of been in terms of preparedness. I’ve had many in extreme dire need scenarios play out over the course of this pandemic so far. This has been a learning process, and there is a lot learned that will be applied and become a part of practice and standard procedure moving forward.
Medical sales is having to adapt, as well. With travel bans in place and vendor visiting challenges, virtual remote selling and education are new norms.
What is something you think people should know about RT?
That they are an integral part of the medical team with a skill set that is unique and specific influence on impacting patient outcomes.
What has been your biggest challenge as an RT?
I think for me, it would have to be leaving the bedside when I crossed over to medical sales. I also really miss being on the transport team and getting to fly. These were really hard things to let go.
What advice would you give to current RT students you didn’t receive when you were a student?
Find your passion in this field and let it drive you. Make decisions and take actions that allow you to sleep well at night. Take time towards what you can control. Don’t waste time with what you cannot. Set goals, aim high, make sure to recognize that your destiny is something in your control.