Meet RT Program Director Peggy Smalley
Jun 6, 2019
Peggy Smalley, BA, RRT-NPS, CPFT, quickly grows excited and enthusiastic as she shows a visitor to the wall outside the respiratory therapy lab at Concorde's Kansas City, Mo. campus.
The information board, which was designed and constructed by Smalley, who's also an artist, details the litany of areas in which a respiratory therapist (RT) can work. There's what she calls the "high-octane half," which includes emergency room-trauma, adult intensive care unit, neonatal ICU and air, and ground transport. Then, there's the side of respiratory therapy that often isn't as high-speed, but is just as precise and vital. That includes pulmonary diagnostics, bronchoscopy, rehabilitation, smoking cessation, and case management.
"And, you may be needed to work in each area in one 12-hour shift," said Smalley, Respiratory Therapy Program Director at Concorde - Kansas City.
Often, she said, the respiratory therapist is the first person someone sees in life and the last.
"As a profession, Respiratory Therapy is much younger than Nursing," she said. "Therefore, many people do not know about our role in health care."
Discovering respiratory therapy early in life
It's that enthusiasm for helping people breathe that drew Smalley to respiratory therapy straight out of high school. Growing up in a rural community in the middle of Missouri, she trained as an emergency medical technician (EMT) at a hospital in nearby Jefferson City and also cross-trained in respiratory therapy.
"As medicine and technology grew, so did the profession," she said. "Respiratory Therapists became responsible for more of the care of critically ill patients as well as took on new roles throughout the health care system. As those responsibilities grew, so did the educational and professional credentialing requirements of the Respiratory Therapists."
Smalley attained her certification in respiratory therapy at State Fair Community College in Sedalia and worked as an RT at hospitals in central Missouri until moving to Kansas City in the mid-1990s, where she continued her formal education. Currently, she is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and holds the Neonatal Pediatric Specialist, Adult Critical Care Specialist, and Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist Credentials as well.
Joining Concorde in respiratory therapy
While working as an RT at a Kansas City hospital, Smalley befriended a colleague who was a graduate of Concorde. The friend told her she would be a great teacher, and Concorde would be a great place to teach. Following an interview and teaching presentation, she was hired to teach and assist in the implementation of a newly advanced portion of the Respiratory Therapy program.
Smalley started at Concorde - Kansas City in 1996 as an instructor. She later was promoted to Director of Clinical Education and, in 2014, became Program Director.
Pride in her respiratory therapy program
Smalley runs a program of 23 students who are put through the paces of 17 months of classroom time and 900 clinical hours.
"When they graduate from here, they're ready to rock and roll," she said.
One can sense the palpable pride and enthusiasm Smalley has in both her program and students. She sees the stories that walk through her doors. Non-traditional students with a lot going on in their lives. They want a career that's not only going to help them but help others.
"They go through a lot," she said. "It's a challenging course."
"What is also cool is that we have students here of every age and all walks of life. We have had students from age 18 to 65. There is never a dull moment."
In her spare time, Smalley paints watercolors, gardens and enjoys blues and jazz music. She also goes camping and has traveled throughout Europe and the Philippines. But, most of the time, she is focused on the future of her program. Concorde's RT program has new classes starting regularly.
"It's really a great field to get into," she said, "and Respiratory Therapists are vitally needed."