Sebastien Tessier

An interview with Sebastien Tessier.

With a passion for finding solutions and figuring out answers to complex problems, Sebastien Tessier initially had plans to attend university to study engineering in either biomedical or mechanical fields. However, thanks to a presentation by a neonatal Respiratory Therapist (RT) during his high school years, he decided to pursue Respiratory Therapy. “It was only fitting that working with complex lifesaving equipment would help fulfill that passion.”, shared Sebastien.

I had the opportunity to meet, and attend a presentation by Sebastien, at the Vancouver Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists (CSRT) Conference in 2018. He is dedicated and driven to advance our profession. I was lucky that he agreed to answer few questions for this interview, even though he was in another country and on vacation.

With various roles and years of experience, what are some of your memorable roles so far?
I think the most memorable roles are the ones that have a deep impact on you as a growing individual. I’ve been able to advocate for French language post-secondary education in the healthcare field to members of parliament. Where this may have been memorable, it will never replace my time as a student in a pediatric code being the only person able to communicate with family. I’ve also served a national student association as President supporting and facilitating interprofessional education across the country. It’s the people, the passion and the longstanding professional relationships that made this such a memorable experience. This can easily be said from my time volunteering on the board of directors for the regulatory college and chairing the provincial conference. The roles are just titles, the experiences you have and how you evolve with them are what makes them memorable.

Your work and volunteering experience include leadership positions, including but not limited to being on the board for the professional college in Manitoba, chairing the committee for the annual MARRT conference, and involvement with other organizations such as CSRT. Can you tell us a little more about this. How did you get involved with the non-clinical side of RT? Also, what were some areas that you had to grow and improve on to better serve in these leadership roles?
It’s a bit interesting as I always considered myself an introvert growing up. Yet, as an RT, you quickly learn that you have to speak up, being the one at the head of bed and managing airways and all. This is where I first struggled but quickly championed, becoming an extroverted introvert. Is that a thing? I am incredibly passionate, as I’m sure you can appreciate from our past encounters. It can be considered an attribute, but I sometimes see it as a fault, because if I don’t have the answer, I can guarantee you I’ll be spending endless hours trying to figure it out. It all didn’t go unnoticed and I was invited to meet with others that shared similar passions. Being exposed to other initiatives outside of clinical had me engaged and invested. My goal as an individual is to contribute something that goes beyond the bedside. I am incredibly thankful for the impact we have on individuals lives and their families (families are also just as important), but for some reason it just isn’t enough for me. I want to be able to have a positive impact directly and indirectly. Again, probably another fault of mine.

Your clinical experiences include working with newborns, pediatrics, and adults. What has helped you become an effective RT in these various patient populations? Also, what advice do you have for RTs who want to expand their skillset and knowledge to work with different patient populations?
I think the biggest impact comes from experience. It’s not to say that I’ve seen everything there is to know about the profession. How you process the experiences you have is what will make a good RT in every scope of our profession. Experience doesn’t just come from you, it derives from successes and failures of others, research and evidence-based care, conferences and networking opportunities where we connect with each other. The one piece of advice I have for those interested in working with different patient populations comes from paper that I sadly wasn’t able to locate and reference for this post, but here it is (roughly): “We often fail to understand the ventilation applied to the lung. The best way one can appreciate the pressures experienced in another’s lung is to experience it themselves.” Also known as, blowing air into another person’s lungs or mouth to mouth.

Any advice for RTs and volunteering? How would one approach an organization they are interested to volunteer at?
I’m a strong believer that those who succeed at what they do, are able to do so in an environment that fosters and supports them. This means that those that are interested in being involved need to acquaint themselves with those that are involved. There is never anything wrong with reaching out to someone with an honest question. I don’t think I know anyone that would turn someone down that is interested in getting involved. I’ve oddly enough had RT’s ask the very question and have been happy to help. Again, I don’t always have the answers but can surely get them on track to where they want to go. This creates a network that is so powerful in the RT world, you’ll never look back.

Let me ask you a question about the bigger image. What is the next big growth area that you see for the RT profession?
Another tough one. I feel that the profession has grown so much in the last five decades. RT’s went from being technical to therapeutic. We used to be able to work in all areas of the hospital and now that each of those areas has become a world of its own, its hard to keep up. Academically, I think I’ve seen this in a few of your interviews, we are due to contribute more to evidence-based care. Not by practice, but by leading with research in our area of expertise. Lastly, I think this goes beyond the scope of your question, but I have this vision of the future where we don’t really ventilate patients at all. Ventilation is so abusive to the lung, which is why there’s so much emphasis on protective strategies and if we don’t need to be intubated… we extubate. What if ventilation wasn’t the life saving measure it is today?

I am always interested in people’s sources of inspiration and role models. What can you share with me?
I think my biggest inspirations are those that are working closely around me. There are a lot of good people working within the profession, clinicians, researchers, managers and beyond. I particularly look back to others success as an inspiration. It is all a matter of environment, and everyone that I’ve looked up to say the same thing. They work in a place of encouragement, where they are able to contribute and allow their passions to grow indefinitely.

How have you been successful in creating a work-life balance? How do you effectively deal with stress related to work? Any advice for RTs to better achieve physical and psychological wellness?

It’s not easy. I honestly cannot say that I have mastered the work-life balance. I’m still writing emails and doing school work while on vacation as I write this to you. Part of me wants to just put it all away, the other part of me just doesn’t want to shut off. I’m thankful that I have good people looking out for me and they help keep things in check. If you can’t admit the truth to the matter you will never be able to reflect and appreciate where you are in life.

We work with people everyday, in all aspects of life. Being personable to patients, colleagues and families I think is what takes a lot of the stress away. Being able to have difficult conversations with others rather than keeping them to ourselves. If you forgot something or did something that needs to be addressed, you will feel 100% better answering the doubt in your mind than wondering when you’ve gone. I feel that we are able to have a better appreciation of ourselves, by taking the time to reflecting. Taking a look at the big picture goes a long way. Sometimes it even takes a large blank canvas (or whiteboard) to put all your thoughts out there.

Any final thoughts?
I do want to thank you Farzad for taking the time in providing RT’s with different perspectives from different people. I always feel like learning from others is enriching because they offer a completely outside perspective. For those that don’t have the opportunity to either network at conferences or via different organizations can hopefully appreciate the insight you are providing them with this blog. I never write about myself in this manner, it is a bit challenging to share the same passion you have in person over a keyboard. But it did allow me to reflect and appreciate where I am, what I’m doing and where I’m going. So for that, thank you.

Thank you, Sebastien, for taking the time to answer my questions and to share your insights and experiences with the RT community!

Sebastien Tessier

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Marco Zaccagnini

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Marco. I have been looking forward to this interview and have some specific questions to ask you. First, I am going to take a step back and ask a general but important question.  How did you find out about the Respiratory Therapy field?
I initially attended CEGEP in Montreal at Vanier College to complete pre-requisite courses to be applicable to a technical program. Truth be told, once I completed those pre-requisite courses, I applied to the coolest sounding professional program I could find “Respiratory and Anaesthesia Technology.” As I began my classes, I found myself enjoying each and every course more and more.

Since graduation, you have been involved with various roles, activities, and volunteering positions.  Can you share with us some of your memorable roles so far?
There’s not a single role that I believe is more memorable than the last. I genuinely think that every position I take will teach me something and that something will serve to better my practice. I truly enjoy those unique (non-traditional) roles that RTs can fill. Some of my examples would be organizing and participating in some humanitarian trips, conducting research and program development in McGill’ centre of medical education, teaching ACLS to allied healthcare professionals and residents and participating as a simulation trainer

You have been practicing as an Anesthesia Assistant (AA) for some time now.  Can you tell me a little about that?
The concept of the AA is quite different from where I am situated in the province. Here in Quebec, training in the OR is mandatory for licensure in Quebec. Once we obtain licensure, individuals who desire to work in the OR simply apply for the position and receive extra training. The decision to work in ICU versus the OR is similar to you choosing to work in adults or pediatrics. It is mostly dependent on job availability and interest. Because of this, the Quebec model of an anesthesia care team is always one RRT and one anesthesiologist per operating room. As you can imagine, this allows many RTs the opportunity to work in the OR without the necessity of higher education. I chose to seek out the AA accreditation because of my involvement with the CSRT and an inherent desire to lead by example that Quebec RTs are arguably as equivalent as AAs.

What were the other factors that lead you to study AA?
There are many reasons why I chose to work predominately in the OR. I enjoy being a proceduralist and I appreciate the science behind resuscitation. In the OR we have a significant role in all aspects, from fluid management to pharmacology. Furthermore, I wanted to work in close proximity with the physicians to learn from them. Imagine working one-on-one with great physicians at a collegial level. They tend to challenge your thinking in a unique way that ends up improving the care you eventually provide to patients. While I do love the OR, I am not close-minded towards any other unit. My practice is a mix of critical care and anesthesia.

With regards to your volunteering experiences abroad, what can you share with us?
I’ve volunteered numerous times with Team Broken Earth in Haiti in clinical work with the Montreal General Hospital and with Thompson Rivers University in Peru organizing conference workshops for locals and clinical rotations for TRU students. Volunteer work in underprivileged areas is the most humbling and amazing work I’ve done. It’s humbling to see the stark contrast to what you are used to as a standard of care. It definitely puts life (and healthcare for that matter) into perspective when you want to complain about something trivial in your daily work routine. It’s also amazing to learn about how the local professionals deliver care with the equipment that they have at hand. I’ve learned a great deal for which I apply techniques in my own practice.

Can you give me an example of a case, scenario, a perspective that really stood out for you?
A case that stood out for me was one where the team performed an open + closed reduction & internal fixation of a C4-C5 unilateral facet dislocation with an anterior cervical approach. The thing that struck me was the resourcefulness and comradery of the team present.
The first part of the case was the closed reduction, so the patient has to stay awake so we can monitor for potential disc herniation. So we performed the closed reduction by weighting down a halo brace with 2 L jugs of water. Once we achieved the closed reduction, the next step was to intubate the patient awake (again to monitor potential disc herniation), unfortunately we had little in advanced airway equipment. So, the entire team rallied behind the airway. The surgical resident performed passive oxygenation with the bag-mask, the anesthesiologist performed as many airway blocks as the patient could tolerate, and I was able to intubate the patient with a portable video-laryngoscope that was generously donated to me for this trip. Finally, we secured his airway and the complicated spine surgery was uneventfully completed. This surgery (from the airway to the surgery itself) was successful because of the team involved at that time.

What advice do you have for those who want to volunteer and travel to areas who need help with patient care/education and staff training?
First, be sure you want to do it. Going to these places is not a vacation, and it is not your right as a healthcare professional to impose your knowledge on locals. Your desire to help needs to stem from empowering locals which may mean you teach much more than you work (for example). To get involved I would merely get informed; e-mail organizations, e-mail individuals who have gone for advice. Once you get some contacts, sell yourself. Showcase your skills in a way that makes you essential to the team rather than a passive member.

“It is not your right as a healthcare professional to impose your knowledge on locals” is a very interesting framework and approach to the situation.  Can you expand on that? Or any advice on how one could approach the situation with that framework?
The keyword to approach this framework is local! You need to tailor your care and education to what they need to provide care to the local population. Before our trips, we contact local chief-residents to determine what they want to learn. This allows us to tailor our education. There’s the added benefit of Montréal’s French language, which allows us to better transmit our knowledge. 

You have been involved with various organizations to support and to advance their processes and practices.  Can you give us some insight about your experience and reflections?
A global highlight is really seeing how the organizations work. My personal mission is to learn from everyone because I believe that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. By understanding how organizations work you have the capacity to make helpful suggestions at other organizations to truly impact your profession, and this is why I stay involved.
My advice to those interested is similar to getting involved in volunteer work; you need to showcase your skills for others to see you as an asset rather than a passive member. When you do achieve any opportunity, however trivial it may seem it is your duty as a professional to complete the task to the best of your abilities. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, be a perfectionist. People will recognize and respect that

It wouldn’t be right if I have an interview with you and not talk about your multiple years as the CSRT Airways Olympics champion or champion team!
I try to attend the CSRT annually, the weekend of the CSRT is where ideas that shape our profession are conceptualized. These ideas can be generated in a formal round table discussion by the executives or over a drink between colleagues between provinces. Professionals in other areas of the nation are doing some unique things, and it would be foolish not to learn from them. 
The first time I participated in the airway Olympics was strictly by chance, a student at the time (now colleague) asked me to join, and I thought it seemed fun. I enjoyed the atmosphere of it. It was competitive yet very supportive. I was not nervous at all during the process because I have learned to trust and fear the airway. There are VERY few people in fact, who are airway experts. A difficult airway is actually a combination of factors such as the context, the equipment, the patient, the providers. The same airway in two different hands can be interpreted in two very different ways (Frerk et al. 2015. Hung, Murphy, 2010). For this reason, a good laryngoscopist respects the airway and thinks of every alternate airway plan before the patient even enters the room. 
A word of wisdom for practicing airways is just to get involved. Ask to manage the airway, whether you are in the OR or ICU. The worst that can happen is the physician says no. As you practice, you’ll begin noticing the subtleties of people’s airways and how to react appropriately. Compound this with simulation training, crisis resource management and situational awareness, and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. 
If all else fails, you have the duration of the conference to practice at the sponsor’s booth.

I would like to hear your bigger picture of our field. What is the next big growth area that you see for the RT profession?
I’ll answer this question with two lenses’ of focus — the first in anesthesia. I think the next growth area for AA’s is to get them OUT of the OR. One thought could be as a part of the chronic pain clinic/rounds. Their pharmacological expertise allows them to adopt this role well; furthermore, they understand the surgery as a whole, so they can better understand pain management. 
Another area that has a growing body of literature are vascular access teams and AA’s leading them. Vascular access teams deal with the insertion, management, removal and correct use of central venous catheters (CVC), radial arterial lines or peripherally inserted central catheters (PICC) often guided by way of the ultrasound. AA’s are exposed to many facets of line insertion and ultrasound usage. Small, context-specific studies have begun showing a benefit in patient care. (Hunter, 2003. Johnson, et al. 2017)
The second lens is as a scholar. The fundamentals of respiratory therapy as a profession is based in critical-care medicine, however, over the last 50 years, our role has exploded outwards to include everything from home-care to innovation. However, the literature that supports our profession is lacking. In critical care medicine, the majority of our evidence-based practice is extrapolated from medical and nursing research. As we become stronger clinicians, we must also become stronger scholars. This will allow us to ask and answer questions that are specific to our scope of practice. Doctorly-trained RRTs would facilitate this.

I am going to make my last question a personal one. You are open with your body art.  Tattoos to be specific.  In the past, there was a slightly negative stigma with having tattoos.  Those views and beliefs are changing.  I personally have tattoos but they are all covered when I wear my scrubs, so I am curious to hear your perspective.
Have you felt any resistance from an employer or experienced a negative situation by a patient or fellow colleague about your choice to have tattoos on visible body parts? And on the flip side, How have tattoos helped you with your practice and in connecting with other staff and patients?
I’ve never had any resistance from my tattoos; the hospital has a powerful union backing their employees so as long as your job is done well, then it doesn’t matter. Many of my colleagues have even more than I do. The stigma is slowly fading, even in the literature. A cool study by Cohen et al. (2018) looked at patients perceptions of emergency physicians with or without tattoos regarding physician competence, professionalism, caring, approachability, trustworthiness or reliability and found no difference.
I feel that my tattoos actually helped my career when I first started. I was always referred to as “the RT with tattoos,” and more and more nurses and physicians would remember the work I did because it was associated with my tattoos. I tend only to cover my tattoos when I present a lecture just because I want the audience to focus on my slides or voice versus being distracted by what I look like.
Finally, the best comment I received from a patient was a little 80-year-old COPD patient who exclaimed that she loved my tattoos because it brought some colour and brightness to her day stuck in the hospitals.

Thank you Marco for your dedication, passion, and contributions to the field of respiratory therapy!


Reference (provided by Marco).

Cohen, M. Jeanmonod, D. Stankewicz, H. Habeeb, K. Berrios, M. Jeanmonod, R. (2018). An observational study of patients’ attitudes to tattoos and piercings on their physicians: the ART study. Emerg Med J. doi:10.1136/ emermed-2017-206887

Frerk, C. (2015). Difficult airway society 2015 guidelines for management of unanticipated difficult intubations in adults. BJA: British Journal of Anaesthesia, 115; 6: 827-848. DOI:

Hung, O. Murphy, M. (2010). Context-sensitive airway management. Anesth Analg; 110:982-3

Hunter, MR. (2003). Development of a vascular access team in an acute care setting. J Infuse Nurs. 26(2):86-91
Johnson, D. Snyder, T. Strader, D. Zamora, A. (2017). Positive influence of a dedicated vascular access team in an acute care hospital. JAVA. 22:1 DOI:

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For my latest blog post, I have the privilege and pleasure to share my conversation with Mr. Frank Fiorenza!
His current and past positions include, but are not limited to Clinician, Instructor, product innovator, CEO, and President!

View this video for our conversation:

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It is becoming an annual tradition for me in the RT Week to write a quick note to express my gratitude to those who have made a difference in my career and professional life over the past year.

Thank you to (in no particular order):

Nancy Garvey and Dilshad Moosa who continue to support my growth with RTSO. Thank you RTSO for allowing me to be part of the family.
Dr. Mika Nonoyama, who gave me a unique opportunity to teach on a topic that I am passionate about.
The CSRT team who continue to motivate and support me in my drive to help the RT community. One of my first supporters and I will be forever grateful!
Eric Cheng, one of the founders RTWB, for introducing me to Annette who shared her amazing perspective on working in Kenya.
Tom Piraino, Tony Kajnar, Carolyn Greer, Shawna MacDonald, and Annette Lievaart for taking the time to answer my questions for my recent blog posts.
Bernie Ho, Tony Kajnar and Dr. Shukla for always being willing to answer my clinical questions.
Christina Sperling, Kathleen Olden-Powell, Kathleen Frame and Carolyn McCoy for being open to hear my thoughts and to guide me with their wisdom.
Novus Medial Inc team for always being open to my technical questions. Also, awesome T-shirts at the Vancouver CSRT2018 conference!
John Meloche and MeloTel for giving me the online space to operate and run my website! One of my first supporters!
Christiane Menard, Noel Pendergast, Rachel Allen, Shawna MacDonald, Mieke Fraser and Katherine Tran for their ongoing support of my online presence.
And of course, the ongoing support of my girlfriend and family.
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I was checking my Facebook app on my phone where I received a notification from 7 years ago.

Divi standing in front of the board and walking us through the formula. We watched as he went through the steps and the reasoning. I guess I had put down my probably third cup of coffee of the day to capture this image. Watching this process unfold was a smile-worthy experience that I wanted to record and share.

Seven years ago, I was a student at The Michener Institute. A group of us sitting in the library working through math questions as we tried to apply them to respiratory care. There was a lot of information that was covered at a fast pace. Some of us, including myself, had weekend jobs, which meant even less time to get comfortable with the material. I had completed my undergrad just prior to this program, so being a student was not foreign to me, however, I felt the pressure. Luckily, I was not alone. When faced with a common challenge, people get together and unite. With each person having their strengths, we stepped up to help the group at different times and in different ways. I can say with confidence that without my classmates, my time as a student could have been a lot more difficult.

I encourage you to spend the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This time, not because a course requires you to complete a questionnaire or because you have to write an assignment about it. Do it for yourself. Be honest with yourself. What are the areas that you could ask others for assistance in? What are your strengths, and how can you utilize them to help others?

So share with us… what are you doing to give back? How has a colleague or a mentor made a difference in your life? What can you do today to make a difference in the lives of others?

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Hi everyone,

Thanks for joining me for another interview with an RT who I believe is doing interesting and unique work and is contributing to the field of respiratory therapy.  Please enjoy this conversation with Annette Lievaart.

Annette, you were a highly recommended RT to interview as an individual who is making a difference outside of Canada. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Southern Alberta.  My respiratory therapy education was completed at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology,

Majority of the first half of my almost eleven years long respiratory therapy career has been in Alberta and the latter half in Kenya.

I started volunteering abroad before Respiratory Therapists Without Borders (RTWB) existed. I discovered them when they were just starting out; I became a board member. Due to logistics, I am serving with a long-term missionary organization called Reach Beyond.

Outside of RTWB, I enjoy playing games with friends, walking my dog, exploring Kenya, reading books, and trying to figure out how to live in a culture so different from my own.

My hopes with this interview is to shed light on the need for better respiratory care abroad, and that RT’s can be helpful in developing hospitals!  Also, I hope to have people think about what it means to work with limited resources.


When did you first hear about the respiratory therapy field? What made you decide to become an RT?
In high school I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what my career was going to be. I knew I wanted to be working in healthcare but not exactly sure which area. I found a description for Respiratory Therapy online.  It piqued my interest. My mom knew of someone who was a home care RT. I spent a day with her and really enjoyed it. Applied to colleges at age 18 and was off to NAIT to study Respiratory.


What are some of your memorable roles so far?
My most memorable role is the one I hold right now. I work at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, Africa. Tenwek is a Christian mission hospital and I work here as a missionary Respiratory Therapist. The role is unique. I am the only RT in a 300-bed hospital. We have 13-17 ICU beds (depending if our CVICU Is open). We have 7 and a half ventilators, the half is an old Servo 900C that no longer delivers PEEP.  We only use it if as a backup when the others are in use. I also have 2 vents in the nursery, but we don’t often use surfactant, so the ventilators are used more for Post-ops or other short-term ventilation needs.

I love this role as it is very diverse.  As the only RT, I function as an educator and a bedside RT.  For example, this morning when I went up to rounds I discovered that my 3-year-old burn patient was intubated overnight for worsening sepsis.  I optimized his vent setting, an insp time of 0.4s is a little too short for my liking. I was thankful to see my 30-year-old trauma patient was doing well. We had put her on APRV yesterday and today her FiO2 is 50.  I extubated a post-op who hadn’t reversed well from surgery. In assessing my 50-year-old who had a pneumonectomy for aspergilloma, I was saddened to see her GCS is still low. Not sure why she is not waking up. We recently got some ETCO2 detectors donated.  Never had this in the ICU before so with nurse shift changes, I provide some education on why this is such a great thing.

Then, I went down to my other ICU, discussed the probable futility in intubating a boy with AIDs who has PJP pneumonia, and severe sepsis. Where we are limited in ventilators and patient and their families pay the bill, we must count the cost of what we do. In this case, given the severity of illness and pre-existing conditions, we probably won’t intubate him. This is the biggest challenge of working here. Illness is so severe and for various reasons that we are limited in what we can do… we see so much death. Death of young people, babies, middle age and the elderly. Pray for us as we continue to do the work.

This was my day before breakfast, the rest of my day will include educating staff, following up on the above patients, attending to emergencies, and whatever else is needed. One of the jobs I also do here is fixing ventilators. Last week I replaced a speaker in my ServoI (good thing as I needed it this week for APRV/BiVent) I also fixed a Servo300. The contacts were dirty, so I spent an hour cleaning it with a toothbrush.

After all this, I need to tell you about one other role I have held in my RT career. In 2015 I was back in Canada and worked at the UofA hospital (as well as being a typical bedside RT). I also worked part-time in the respiratory workshop with 3 RT’s who do this full time. They were a wealth of knowledge. I helped and, more than that learned many things that I can use when I am called upon here to fix ventilators (Thanks Guys).


How did you get involved with RTWB? What are your responsibilities and Duties?
I was first in Kenya in 2010.  Upon my return, I thought there needed to be an organization that connected hospitals with RTs’ who are willing to go. I stumbled across RTWB online. RTWB was just starting out at the time so I joined in.

I admit I do not have a lot of responsibilities directly with RTWB. As currently the only member who is working long-term abroad I think of myself as an advisor, helping out where I can.


Have you gone on any volunteering trips through RTWB?
As a founder, I have done some site visits to other hospitals. Setting them up so other RT’s can visit.


Who would be a good candidate to be involved with RTWB? How can RTs get involved?
Let me speak about being deployed with RTWB abroad, there are various ways to be involved in Canada, but I have less experience with that. To work abroad, first, you need some good bedside RT experience. The scope of practice can be very broad when working abroad and you will be asked to do a lot. So, make sure you know what you are doing before you go. Also, one needs to be flexible; I prefer intubating with a mac blade but if the Miller blade is the only one with a working bulb, miller it is. Be willing to use clinical assessment skills rather than all the numbers. An ABG here costs 15$, many people make $5 a day. Is an ABG in this situation worth 3 days wages? If I can get by without it, then I skip it. If you want to get involved check out the deployment page on our website. Or if you know of a place that could use volunteer RT’s help set them up as a Health Education Partner on our website.


Can you tell us a little bit about working outside Canada?
Most of my work has been in Kenya. I have also worked at Tenwek.  Aside from my work at Tenwek, I have also done some education at 2 other mission hospital in Kenya A month was also spent in Cameroon training some ICU nurses.

I came to Tenwek as I was looking for a place that I could share the love of God with my patients as well as fill a needed role. Tenwek was that fit.

The experience is amazing, exhausting, depressing and uplifting all at the same time.

RT as a profession does not exist in Kenya. I hold a practice license from the Physiotherapy Council of Kenya (strange I know), I had to define the Role of RT here. The role I created is a lot of education and a lot of acute care

ICU’s are becoming a lot more common in developing countries, however, there is not a lot of knowledge about how to ventilate well, what different ventilator modes really do, etc. RT’s can come alongside Doctors and Nurse and help fill this knowledge gap.


What advice you have for RTs who may be interested?
Become an experienced RT with varying experience. I often wish I had more pediatric experience. Maybe next time I am in Canada for a year I will work with peds to gain more experience in that area. Then look for places where you can serve. Get in touch with RTWB or other contacts to see where help is required. Also, be willing to go for longer than 2-3 weeks. Work in Africa is all about relationships and without that base it is difficult to create change.


Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to explore this beautiful country of Kenya, this year I climbed Mount Kenya, last month I was able to go to the rainforest and see amazing birds and monkeys. Tenwek is really in the middle of nowhere so games with friends, pizza nights (with homemade pizza) and relaxing with a book are typical ways I wind down.


Who are the roles models and source of inspiration in your life?
I would say my biggest role model is Jesus Christ, He loved the world so much that he died, and rose again for us, during his time on earth he spent time healing the sick and loving them. I pray for a love like that.

Also, my mom is also a big role model, she died in 2016 after a fight with Scleroderma. Even when she was sick her love for life, for other and for serving other persisted.


How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
This is the biggest challenge in being the only RT at Tenwek. I wear my pager 24/7 when I am here. It has been a few weeks since I have been paged out of bed, but it will happen.  I schedule weekends away either exploring or just groceries and eating out in Nairobi. I am encouraged by my community and the people back home who pray for me. I find joy in simple songs of praise to God and I give the control to him.


As an RT who has not worked out of the greater Toronto area, this has been an eye-opening interview.  Thank you for your time and for your compassion for your patients in Africa.

If you are interested to learn about volunteering opportunities visit
There is an upcoming event to raise money for RTWB (visit http://www.Respiratory.Blog/5k/ for more details.)

Annette has been kind enough to share few photos to give us some visual perspective of her work and personal life.   Enjoy these photos, and thanks for taking the time to read this blog post!

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Social Media

As some of you know, I used to have photography social media accounts and now have focused my energy into my respiratory therapy blog. This involvement with social media for these years have brought an awareness to some of the mindsets, trends and external observations to online presence. I would say with confidence that now there is more noise than useful information. If people didn’t see or follow the evolution of Internet and social media, they may mistake the online “noise” as the true front of these online individuals and companies. While I do not consider myself an expert or a role model in this area, my involvement in this field has allowed me to identify individuals who have more realistic views of the online “process”.

In the following video Gary V. talks about one’s willingness and drive to dedicate “spare” time to achieve the desired outcome. Pay attention to how his advice is focused on what individuals truly want versus what they should want due to the influence of social trends and peer pressure. Also that you need to enjoy being involved in the process than necessarily the outcome (as there is learning in failure as well).
Personally, I believe in actions speaking louder than words. Also that there is hard work involved in every process. There are few true “easy” ways to reach greatness. In my respiratory therapy blog I have interviewed many successful individuals in the RT field and while their journey and achievements vary, they share characteristics such as hard work, self reflection, resilience and at times unique opportunities.
I encourage you to step back and re-evaluate what truly makes you happy, and that what you do or think is in line with that mindset. Continue to grow, learn and connect.
Stay curious.
Be kind to yourself and others.


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Who is helping who?

 Last Monday I was driving through my usual path to work.  At the Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) laboratory of Markham Stouffville Hospital, my colleagues and I perform PFT, 6 Minute Walk Test, Home O2 assessment, Arterial Blood Gas and occasional Exercise Induced Asthma test.  In the gaps between tests we provide patient education including Asthma, COPD and Smoking Cessation. On my drive to work last Monday around 7am, I was waiting to make a left turn when a car ran a red light and collided with the vehicle travelling in the perpendicular direction.  Because of the impact, the cars changed path and hit my vehicle. Everyone was okay. The cars had to be towed to collision reporting centre before being heading to repair shops. While I sat in the tow truck, the driver walked me through all the steps, gave me advice on what to expect that day and for the following days.  He even helped me organized all the required documents as I called my insurance company. As we were waiting for my rental vehicle to arrive, he said, “You said that you are a respiratory therapist… I have a bad habit”. He paused for few seconds and then continued… “I have been trying to quit smoking”.

Over the next 15 minutes we covered some smoking cessation information. I asked him questions and we went through some options.  He was motivated and willing.

 A few days later I was reflecting on this interaction and the conversation with him.  Sometimes you get to help someone when least expected. In my case you may get to help someone while they are helping you!  

 Yet another thought, or possibility, came to my mind.  Perhaps he asked me a question so I would talk about something I am passionate about.  Because over those 15 minutes, I was not thinking about the accident, being late for work, nor the hassles of fixing my car. In that time I was in the zone of helping someone else.  It was such a simple way to get someone’s mind off the stress of the situation.

 Are there any patient scenarios where this “technique” can be utilized? I am hesitant to call it a technique as by interacting with patients we, the health care providers, can establish a genuine rapport which can further improve patient care.   Maybe this method or technique can be used while getting things ready for an ABG? Perhaps before or while having a patient in the PFT body box or CT/MRI machine?


 Find out what the patient is passionate about during your ongoing conversation with them.  Ask them a relevant question or advice, and watch them focus on something positive.


Let me know if you have used this approach before and how it went!

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Shawna (Urquhart) MacDonald is an active Respiratory Therapist at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS).  I got to know Shawna as she also volunteers on the Board of Directors at the Respiratory Therapy Society of Ontario (RTSO).   Unbeknownst to me, I had actually been exposed to Shawna’s work over the past four years, as she has been one of the creative minds behind RTSO Airwaves, RTSO’s publication.  I am a fan of Airwaves because this publication celebrates respiratory therapists (RTs), and creates a sense of community in our field. I am fascinated by her level of dedication and contributions in the field.

When I heard that she has been helping with Respiratory Therapy Educational Retreats, I used the opportunity to gain more insight about her experiences and the Retreat.

Here is my conversation with Shawna:


Shawna, I know how busy you are with your family, work, RTSO Airwaves, Inspire 2019 planning, and the upcoming HHS RT Educational Retreat.  Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!

Let’s take a moment and share little bit about you with our audience.
What made you decide to study respiratory therapy?

I have asthma…diagnosed when I was very young.  My childhood was filled with visits to hospital, different medication trials, and even a spontaneous pneumothorax! One summer I participated in a memorable pool exercise and educational program for asthmatic kids that was hosted by the Lung Association, so lung health strategies and Respiratory Therapy have been an influence in my life for a very long time.

I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession, specifically in healthcare in some capacity.  I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be a pharmacist, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist or a respiratory therapist!  However, the decision was an easy one after time spent shadowing each profession towards the end of high school.  My asthma experiences fuelled my passion for the profession!  I am a proud graduate of Fanshawe College, class of ’92.


Glad that you decided to study respiratory therapy!

What have been some of your memorable RT positions/roles so far?

I have held many positions over the past 26 years, and all have them have grown me into who I am today, with many wonderful memories along the way. From bedside Clinician to Student Clinical Coordinator to Education & Development Clinician (RT Educator), and now back full circle to bedside Clinician again.  I have also volunteered in many different capacities over the years, sitting on various committees and working groups; planning RT Week displays, activities and events; and volunteering with professional bodies.  I was a CRTO PORTfolio reviewer for 10 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed that opportunity and learned so very much!  My favourite part of this was learning about what amazing things RT’s were doing across the province…this always provided such inspiration and sparked a renewed passion for the profession.  In 2014, I began volunteering with the Respiratory Therapy Society of Ontario (RTSO) as Editor of RTSO Airwaves (a quarterly publication of the RTSO) and as a Board member…my way of giving back to a profession that has given me so much.  These experiences and roles have shaped me into a well-rounded and seasoned therapist, but there is always more to learn and more ways to grow, both on a personal and professional level.

You definitely have a rich portfolio.  As someone who has volunteered with you, your level of dedication is clearly evident and appreciated!   I would like to ask you more questions for a possible second interview piece, but for now let’s talk about the upcoming Educational Retreat in Hamilton.


What is the goal of this conference and what can RTs who are attending this conference expect?  

What I love about the HHS RT Retreat is that it is a conference designed by Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) RT’s specifically to meet the educational needs of Respiratory Therapists.  I am proud to share that a number of people involved with this event have been on the Planning Committee for several years…it is so rewarding! I have had the pleasure of wearing many hats with this event, from planning committee member to speaker to chairing the event one year…all wonderful experiences!


The HHS RT Educational Retreat offers professional networking, lectures, hands-on facilitated workshops, tremendous vendor support, and lots of prizes!  What is great about our event is that over the years, it has grown to support regional LHIN RT’s and affiliated RT Programs for Student Respiratory Therapists and RT Educators.  We have also built in ample time to liaise with our many corporate (vendor) supporters…we couldn’t run the event without them, and we have a unique approach get people mingling with our vendors through our ‘vendor passport’ system and prize draw.  It is truly a marquis event! 


Thank you Shawna for your insight!

This year’s HHS RT Retreat is happening September 18th, 2018 at Carmen’s Banquet Centre in Hamilton. The cost for this full day event is only $60 ($35 for students).

For those who are interested to learn more about this conference and to register, please click on the following link:



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#RTSO Leadership Summit 2018

Thank you Respiratory Therapy Society of Ontario (RTSO) for the 2018 Leadership Summit. What a great collection of motivated attendees, working together to create positive change.

#RTSO gives voice to RTs in Ontario. To support this organization I have volunteered on the board of directors for the past few months. It is an honour working along side this driven and passionate group of volunteers. Do you know an RT in Ontario who has not joined RTSO yet? See this link for more details:

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