Tabatha Dragonberry

Like most people, I once found myself to be in the proverbial “fork in the road” in my career path.  I was raised in Florida and graduated with a degree in film and video production. I proceeded to move to New York City, where I worked at a major editing company in Times Square. Like most New Yorkers, I had long commutes on the subway and enjoyed the fast-passed life with the multitude activities the city offered. Then came the catastrophe of 9-11, and things changed. Something was amiss. Something was not right.

I decided to move to Illinois where my mother was living and began to think about a new direction that might provide me more satisfaction. While I was researching career paths, someone I knew spoke enthusiastically about the interesting things he was learning in the ICC respiratory program, and that sparked my curiosity.

I began to learn about the profession of respiratory therapy by speaking with ICC health careers instructors and completing a job shadow position at a local hospital. After researching the pros and cons and realizing this was a very positive profession, I made the decision to start my education at ICC and work toward my Associate degree in Respiratory Therapy, specializing in pediatrics.

It’s hard for me to believe that seven years have passed since I graduated from ICC’s Respiratory Therapy Program.  In retrospect, I would have never expected to accomplish so much since graduation. The education and guidance I received at ICC was the spring board that set me in the path of a solid and satisfying profession that I love and which allows me to make difference in children’s lives.

To this day, when I have good news regarding my career, I call my ICC instructors Kelly Crawford-Jones and Pam Jackson. I feel my success in the field of respiratory care is just as much theirs as it is mine.

My instructors were my teachers, mentors and friends. I can remember sitting in Pam’s class and her saying, “School is your foundation. It’s your choice to build a shack, house or mansion on it.” In my most recent conversation with her, she told me, “You surely built a mansion on that foundation.” I doubt she realized how much this one statement actually means to me.

This one choice has given me personal great satisfaction, pride, happiness and other rewards that were achieved though many hours of class, studies, tests, essays, reports and just plain hard work. But this was not done alone; it’s with the guidance of teachers, mentors and the encouragement of family and friends.

Within a week of graduating ICC, I obtained my credentials as a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and completed my Neonatal Pediatric Subspecialty (NPS) credential within a month of my RRT.  While completing my studies, I interviewed for several employment opportunities and decided to accept an offer from Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where I continue working full-time.

Because of my flexible schedule, I have also worked in local hospitals, as well as home health care and have contracted with different companies as a teacher. All of these opportunities have allowed me to evaluate the profession and its applications in a variety of environments.

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Care from the University of Columbia Missouri and am a Certified Asthma Educator. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Medical Education through the University of Cincinnati.

I also work as a clinical instructor for Northern Virginia Community College, which allows me to be a mentor and teach others in the same manner my instructors taught me. I tell my students that I am not just teaching students but also future colleagues with whom I may work side-by-side in the near future.

The desire for education comes from within, and once you acquire knowledge and confidence drawn from experience, it opens the door to other interesting opportunities.

I think volunteerism is important to give back to others and promote our profession. It is important to have time for volunteering and providing some help to others that have less. My choice has been to travel where my presence will produce greater results, and I have traveled to a Haiti where I volunteered my teaching time. This has been one of my most interesting and rewarding experiences thus far.

Along with acquiring experience and building a track record in a career field comes new responsibilities. I have lobbied on Capitol Hill with members of the AARC’s PACT team for the Medicare Respiratory Therapist Access Act. This is a yearly effort that provides me a learning experience while trying to help Medicare recipients get the respiratory care they require.

I have assisted in Quality Improvement projects such as policy and procedures and equipment trials to provide better care for the patients that I serve. I am currently organizing a Neonatal Pediatric Conference for the Virginia State Society of Respiratory Care so that therapists have the opportunity for continuing education. Currently, I am embarking into my newest interest, which is research.

I must thank my instructors, clinical sites and preceptors for providing me a solid educational foundation. This foundation has allowed me to accomplish so much professionally and personally. My ICC education provided me the technical, personal, and leadership skills that have allowed me to flourish and become successful.

In this profession, I have been part of people’s best days where relief and happiness was palpable, and unfortunately with others I have had to see the worst days of their lives.   Regardless of the outcome, there are expressions of thanks and appreciation from patients, parents and families, which is what makes me come back to work everyday and has created my passion for my profession.

I have traveled throughout the USA, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and throughout Europe. All of my personal experiences would not have happened if it weren’t for my solid education at ICC and the wonderful instructors who gave me a strong foundation, so my successes are inherently linked to ICC.

I believe that ICC can provide the same solid foundation to start your career.  Nothing is easy; it’s your job to build upon it what you have chosen to do, and how much time you dedicate to improve yourself.  A lot of hard work goes into building your career, reputation and eventually reaching that analogical mansion, but its well worth the rewards.

My advice to people looking into school or changing a career is that it is your job to work toward your own goals.  Take one step at a time or one class at a time, and eventually you will reap the rewards.  Remember your education has a value that cannot be taken away from you, and only you can make it possible.

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