Setting Goals as A New Graduate

Setting Goals as A New Graduate

Goals Dragwa

Creating Plans and Reaching Aspirations

By Shawn M. Proctor

After a long stint of studying, reading and scribbling notes, soon-to-be graduates await uncertainty outside the ivied walls. Questions far more complex than those on tests weigh on the graduating student’s mind. How do I secure a position? What do I want to do with my degree? How do I guide my career? Do I want to move into a specialty area?

Fortunately, there are experts to guide new RTs. They are the therapists who have invested years in the field, seen the way and avoided the pitfalls. Set goals immediately upon graduation, even if they are basic, they advise.

“It was new to me and scary because you are dealing with peoples’ lives,” said Francine Warwick, RRT, a respiratory therapist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “My first goal was to start to feel comfortable. I always asked a lot of questions and offered to help. I read a lot.”

New grads have to take responsibility for their own post-school education, she advised.


Experience is vitally important in the first year. “Develop a broad base. Get a good taste of everything,” said Wendy Hakun, BS, RRT, manager of respiratory therapy at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnwood, Pa. “Set short-term goals and long-term goals for yourself. It can take a couple years to become talented, but keep reading and learning.”

Hakun said the biggest pitfall a novice therapist faces is moving into a specialty area too early. It is tempting to skip the first-year boot camp and move into an area like home care, she added. For some with clear plans, home care may be the perfect direction, but she advises new RTs: “Keep your options open.” RTs with a wider scope of skills will be better prepared for new positions and career shifts in this ever-changing field.

Sometimes, part of a career search is asking what you will be allowed to do on the job.

“If graduates come out and become neb-jockeys where they will not be allowed to do anything else, then the schooling is not reinforced. It is more harmful than helpful,” said Chauncey Bailey, CRTT, a respiratory therapist at Norton Sound Health Corp., a 21-bed hospital which draws its patients from a 44,000 square mile region in western Alaska. “If you are a therapist who wants to excel, then research the facilities you are considering. Which ones are open to letting you practice what you’ve learned? Are the therapists staying? Will you have MD input? Sometimes doctors don’t want to hear from RTs.”


Once new grads get established at their first jobs, it is then important to create long-term goals. These are highly individualized. If the RT is not certified, then entry-level certification could be the first goal. Then there are more steps to climb: registry exams and perhaps a bachelor’s degree. “A bachelor’s is good to have. It can help you compete and get the coveted day shift. The better you make yourself and the more educated you are, then the better resource you will be,” said Celeste Dragwa, BS, RRT, a respiratory therapist at Lankenau Hospital.

Flexibility is also a big factor, she added. “At first it didn’t seem like I would find a full-time job. I started per diem. I had to do weekends and work into a full-time job.”

Attaining a bachelor’s degree, while important, might still be only a first step toward reaching a long-range goal. RTs looking at advanced education need to study the possibilities carefully. “It depends on where they set their goals. They need to see where they are headed and what advanced credentials are needed. Then seek the degrees that fit best,” said Mark Randolph, MBA, RRT, RPFT, director of cardiopulmonary services at Louisiana State University Health Science Center, Baton Rouge. He advocates building expectations that are both challenging and attainable. “RTs need to construct a goal for themselves, because otherwise they will tend to wander.”

While working toward those degrees, take a good look around. “There is so much available. You can move into different areas. There are many places open for people to meet different needs at different points in their lives,” said Hakun. “After you have started to get experience, look at what positions interest you. Then position yourself to move in that direction. Read. Take classes. Take that initiative on your own. Be pro-active. Don’t wait for someone to come and tell you what is happening in your career.”


Do not underestimate the Internet as a career resource either. E-mail, discussion groups and Internet sites offer a wide range of viewpoints from across the world. “You can find information about practically anything,” said Dragwa. “Just punch in the right words and data are at your fingertips.”

Finally, always think of new ways to excel. According to Bailey, “If you don’t continue to reach, you are not going to get anywhere. You become stagnant.” *

Shawn Proctor is an ADVANCE editorial assistant.

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