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Why I Chose Pulmonary Diagnostics

Aug 29, 2023

Kenny Harker, RRT, RPFT

2023 AARC SPOTY Award recipient for the Diagnostic Section

I’ve heard these words uttered a few times by Ralph Stumbo, the current AARC Diagnostic Section Chair. It wasn’t until two years ago that these words finally pulled at me and prompted me to get involved with the Diagnostic Section.

I have been a Respiratory Therapist for 13 years and got my start in the long-term acute care setting. It was there that the seed for diagnostics was planted. My mentor, Rich Carlson RRT, started talking to me about pulmonary diagnostics and he made it sound like a lot of fun. The patient coaching and all the science behind it really excited me but I always thought I would pursue it when I was done with acute care. Well, after three years I got the opportunity to jump to a pulmonary diagnostic office and I took it.

I have spent the last 10 years in said office and it has been a blast! It helped that I had two amazing mentors there as well, Larry McMullin RRT, RPFT and Nancy Deboer RRT, CPFT. They instilled in me a desire to perform high quality testing and to do it right every single time. If I ever thought there was an issue, I was taught I needed to correct that issue before proceeding. They taught me that numbers and graphs are more than just something on a page; they mean a lot! They can change the treatment plan for a patient. They inspired me to learn more and hone my craft when it came to PFT testing. Whether they know it or not, they inspired me to earn my RPFT credential.

Still, I was content to just sit on the sideline. I thought I had it in me to do more but did not want to get involved beyond performing high quality PFTs. I just didn’t see it in myself. I had all the excuses of, “I can’t do that,” “There’s someone better who can do it,” or “I’m not smart enough.”

Then I had a conversation one day with Nancy. She told me about AARC Connect and the Diagnostic Section and about the active discussion board. I decided to join and from there I met Ralph Stumbo and had a great conversation with him. He told me how important this field was and is. Ralph shared that diagnostics needs more people involved. I got excited just listening to him. I could hear the passion in his voice over the topic and knew it meant a lot to him. I took what he had to say to heart and decided to run for the Section Chair.

Looking back even five years, I don’t think I would have envisioned myself where I am now. I’m now currently the supervisor of the PFT lab that I joined back in 2013 and the AARC Diagnostic Section Chair Elect. I took all the advice my past mentors had given me, and I kept reaching for more. A fire was lit, and it has now led me to work on projects to help educate staff in our healthcare system on how to perform a PFT.

The education project started because of motivation from all my mentors and because PFTs matter; they make a difference. PFTs are more than just numbers and graphs on a page. I’ve seen far too many subpar tests that have caused the patient to undergo unnecessary follow up testing and imaging, increasing their financial burdens. When they have their test repeated in the pulmonary office, it often results in a normal test. I believe that we need to create a movement and desire to want to work in pulmonary diagnostics. We need to instill in other RTs that being a good PFT operator can make a significant difference in our patients’ lives! Diagnostics is not a “boring job” and it’s not just a retirement phase out plan. It’s a high energy, bring your ‘A’ game kind of job and I love it! It’s also been going through so many changes recently that it’s never boring.

The field of diagnostics has been such a rewarding and exciting career choice. I’m very excited to continue down this career path and can’t wait to see what’s next for me. I’m also looking forward to seeing who’s next to join me. Who will help continue to grow the field of diagnostics?

My next step is to try my hand at presenting to my peers. I hope to see you all from the presenter stage someday. Let’s all stay curious and learn something new every day.

So………. Who is next?

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