By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University
Caitlin Schultz’s career has progressed into something even more exciting than she had originally pictured. She attended Fanshawe College from 2007 to 2010 and studied Respiratory Therapy. This is a three-year program – and the last year is all clinical work. Her placements were at University Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Stratford General Hospital. After her placements ended, Caitlin secured a position as a Respiratory Therapist at University Hospital, and worked there for five years. She also worked at Stratford Hospital and Alexandra Marine & General Hospital, in Goderich, as a Charge Respiratory Therapist.
Then Caitlin’s journey took a new direction – to a newly created position at London Health Sciences Centre: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Patient Navigator. COPD is a disease that is 80%-90% caused from smoking and doesn’t typically onset before age 40. As a chronic condition, it can be managed, but not cured. So, patient care is based on disease management and patients need help with that.
Caitlin’s job is to work with COPD patients under the Respirology Service. A big part of her job is teaching patients. She does patient consultations that involve education about COPD, self-management skills, community resources and discharge readiness. After patients are discharged from hospital, she continues to follow up with them by phone to ensure smooth transitions. Since the job is fairly new, and she is the first one to step into the role at London Health Sciences Centre, another big part involves developing projects and new initiatives. These include things like a connecting-to-home initiative, standardizing education for COPD patients, and creating a clinical pathway for patients to follow. Caitlin is a certified respiratory educator in both asthma and COPD. In addition to this – and her respiratory therapy training – she sees the special skills required for her job are patience and a genuine desire to help people improve their own lives.
Many events and people inspired Caitlin on her journey to this career. When she learned that her younger brother had asthma, and he had to get pulmonary function testing, that is when she learned about respiratory therapy. In Grade 12, she was interested in health care, but didn’t want to become a nurse. She did some research and got her first glimpse of respiratory therapy. A neighbor worked as a respiratory therapist at Goderich Hospital, and so – pro tip! – Caitlin job-shadowed him. This proved helpful in choosing to study Respirator Therapy in college and she felt confident and happy in the choice.
After college, the connections and experiences from University Hospital, Goderich Hospital and Stratford General Hospital, helped Caitlin decide exactly what she wanted to do. In those organizations, she had broad experiences – everything from acute to chronic disorders, and inpatient to outpatient settings. When she heard about the job opportunity as a COPD Navigator, she was already doing some COPD education in Stratford – and she realized patient education interested most. It just made sense!
When asked what she loves about the job, Caitlin says that it’s “the change made with the patients, when from start to finish there is visible improvement, and satisfaction from it. It is very rewarding being able to improve patients’ experiences, and engage them in their care, especially when you can see how much more comfortable they are about going home and being at home. You really get to know some of the patients and it is so rewarding being a constant person for them in the hospital. Patients need continuity of care and integration of care.” She also explains she loves seeing the changes in the hospital, as initiatives start to happen, and witnessing the hospital become more patient focused.
Deciding to drop everything and commit to an environment that was outside of her comfort zone was the biggest challenge in getting to where she is now. Having to give up her other jobs was hard. Taking a jump in the hope that it would work out was huge. Caitlin had never worked at Victoria Hospital before, and it was a big decision to commute over an hour to work every day. Further, many things that she is doing now would have intimidated her a while ago – such as all the presentations and public speaking. She worked her way into it slowly, each presentation getting a little bit bigger.
Caitlin’s advice for those interested in healthcare? “Think outside the box when it comes to health care jobs! There is a lot more in health care than just the front-line stuff you typically see and hear about – such specialty jobs…Definitely job shadow! You can do research, but it’s hard to know until you get into the action. So any chance you get at seeing things firsthand – take it!”