Denita Tanner

Twice a winner: Respiratory care grad loves new career

By Bonnie Henderson

Denita TannerDenita Tanner of Eugene was 39 years old when she decided to change careers and train at Lane Community College to become a respiratory therapist. It was, she says, one of the best decisions she's ever made.

"It was so worth it," Tanner says of the two-year program. "I'm so happy."

Respiratory therapists evaluate and monitor heart and lung function and provide treatment for breathing difficulties for patients ranging from premature infants whose lungs aren't fully developed to elderly adults with lung disease. Lane's respiratory therapy program is taught with a combination of online classes and hands-on labs.

"This place has been wonderful to me twice," Tanner says of Lane, whose Cooperative Education program helped her land her first real job in the office a local clinic for disabled children shortly after graduating from Springfield High School. She enjoyed that job, but after almost 20 years, she realized she was getting burned out and needed to make change. She liked the health care field but was intimidated by the often long waits required to get into nursing school. Respiratory therapy seemed to offer similar challenges and rewards—and she could get into the program right away. She job-shadowed a respiratory therapist, something she recommends all prospective students do, before deciding to go for it.

Tanner, who completed the program in June 2007, is now a shift supervisor in respiratory therapy at Salem Hospital. In this role, she interacts with student interns from respiratory therapy programs at colleges throughout western Oregon, and she is consistently impressed by the high caliber of students from Lane. In both their academic preparation and their professional manner, she says, they set the bar.

She also is pursuing a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy with an emphasis in health care management.

Last winter she returned to Lane to teach a beginning respiratory therapy lab class for first-year students. Why add teaching to her already busy life? "I never want to forget where I came from and all the people who helped me," she says. "I just want to give back, because I am really grateful for the opportunity I had."