Stephen K. Rogers had a message from the class of 1977 to the current crop of respiratory therapists at the University of Kansas Medical Center: learn your lessons well at KU and your education will serve you throughout your career.
Rogers, who recently moved back to Kansas City after retiring from a career that began in respiratory care and wound its way through health care administration, presented a guest lecture to students in the Department of Respiratory Care Education.
"What I took away most and foremost from my time at KU was the development of a culture of excellence, and an expectation of excellence," he told a class assembled in the new Health Education Building on Sept. 8. "We came to believe that we were receiving the best respiratory education in the country, and we walked out of here fully believing that."
Rogers didn't set out to become a respiratory therapist. He had earned an undergraduate degree in microbiology when he landed a job as a research assistant in the Department of Medical Pharmacology at KU Medical Center.
After a couple of years of performing experiments for researchers, Rogers decided it was time for a change. It was at about this time, a friend in the lab mentioned respiratory therapy as a career path. Rogers readily admits he had no idea what respiratory therapy involved, but it piqued his interest enough to make a phone call.
"I picked up the phone and called over to the RT school and within 30 minutes I was meeting with the director of the program," he said. "He gave me the sales pitch and within 30 minutes I walked away thinking 'this is something I'm interested in.' It hit some buttons for me."
Number one among those buttons was job mobility. The burgeoning field of respiratory care needed practitioners. Second, it would be a chance to move up financially from a research assistant's salary. And finally, it would allow him to work with patients.
So Rogers signed on for what was at the time a three-semester certificate program that included a class of 12 or 13 students. The first semester was a time to gain a rudimentary understanding of the equipment and skills required. Each semester the expectations grew until finally the students had mastered not only the skillset required but also the knowledge of how respiratory care blends in with the other health care professions. Rogers said many of the skills learned at KU Medical Center served him well during his career as he moved from being a practitioner to a manager.
After receiving his respiratory therapy certification, Rogers started his career at the now-defunct St. Mary's Hospital in Kansas City. He subsequently received his registered status as a respiratory therapist. Not long after that, he and his wife decided to try rural life, so he accepted a job in Lyons in Central Kansas where as the only registered respiratory therapist at the time between Salina and Denver he led a one-person department at the town's 40-bed hospital.
"My wife grew up around horses, so when we lived in Lyons we had horses," said Rogers. "One afternoon after work I was out riding, and I got a page from the emergency room. I could ride home about a half mile and put my horse up in the barn, or I could ride about a minute and a half to the ER. I tied my horse up outside the hospital. It was no big deal."
Being a one-person department in Lyons afforded Rogers an opportunity to interact and collaborate with doctors and other health care professionals he might not otherwise have had. From Lyons he moved to Tulsa for the start of a 30-year career in health care management at institutions in Oklahoma. He credits the expertise gained during his training at KU Medical Center with helping to make that possible. He added that it was from the foundation formed at KU Medical Center that he was able to make the move into administration, including 20 years as the director of University Health Services at Oklahoma State University.
"As I think back on my time at KU Medical Center, I remember the excitement and feeling that something big was going to happen," Rogers said. "My KU Medical Center experience was great. What I took away from this experience has served me throughout my career."