Holly Kaess was a preschool teacher for 10 years, then an at-home mom for eight years. Her youngest child was born with tracheomalacia. “It’s basically a floppy airway,” Klaess explained. “We spent a lot of time in the emergency room and in and out of the hospital with her. That’s where I got introduced to respiratory therapy.”
Kaess’s daughter eventually outgrew her tracheal problem, and Klaess decided to go back to school. With a lifelong love of science and firsthand experience, respiratory therapy was a logical choice. “I’ve always been interested in medicine — when I went through the problems with my daughter, I got a passion for it. I’m able to understand things from the medical side, but also to be empathetic with people because I’ve been there,” she said.
Kaess chose the Respiratory Care baccalaureate program at St. Catherine University . “I love having a four-year degree. I wanted to have that door open to me. It’s just a phenomenal program. You get exposure to everything from neonatal to pediatrics to adults to pulmonary function testing to home care. You do clinicals in all those areas. By the time you graduate, you gravitate to what works for you,” she said.
What area of respiratory care did you gravitate to?
I work in the critical care unit of a hospital — the ICU. I work with all of the life support equipment. When the physician prescribes medication, I administer it through the ventilators. I maintain airways. I’m also on the code team — the person bagging the patient, maintaining the airway, helping intubate. If there’s a trauma, we go to the emergency room, we have to do back up, assess the patient, maintain the airway. I do a lot of CPR. We do a lot of education. There are CRTs who work with the medical team when patients are stabilized and on the floors. They do a lot of asthma education, explaining medication, how to follow the regimen, what might be triggering asthma, when to call the doctor. For patients with cystic fibrosis, we make sure they’re following up and being compliant with their treatment program.
Is there a demand for Certified Respiratory Therapists?
I graduated in May, and by March I’d had four job offers. One I hadn’t even applied to. When you do all those clinicals, it’s like an interview. You may have a month or two at one hospital. They’re watching you. You have two years of getting your name out there.
What was it like to change careers after being an at-home mom?
It was very intimidating going back, but I had so much support from the program. My husband has been phenomenal. My kids have been great. I graduated summa cum laude and was nominated for commencement speech. I felt really honored to have accomplished that.
Is it a high-stress career?
You’ve got to weigh the good with the bad. It’s very difficult when you have to terminate life support. It’s never going to be easy. But for every one bad thing that happens, there are 10 miracles. There are patients that you don’t think will survive, and they make a great recovery and have no long-term effects. When they come in, you’re doing CPR and afraid there is going to be a brain injury, and a week later you’re talking to them. That’s pretty amazing.