Lees started college at a school in South Carolina. During her sophomore year, however, she had to come back to New Jersey because of her respiratory issues and ended up being hospitalized. Her doctors and parents both suggested she remain and not return to school in the south. With plenty of time to think and talk to respiratory therapists during her recovery, she decided to change her course of study and pursue a career as a respiratory therapist. When she learned that County College of Morris (CCM) offered a program, she knew it would be a good fit. Lees quickly found a friend in Professor John A. Rutkowski, who directs the Respiratory Therapy Program at CCM. She recalls his friendly and helpful demeanor. Lees also quickly realized she would excel in the program. “I don’t know if it’s because respiratory was what I always wanted to do, but I found such a joy in it that I ended up getting all As throughout the professional phase,” says Lees.
An impressive GPA is only one of the many accolades featured on Lees’ resume.
She was inducted to the Lamba Beta National Honor Society, the National Honor Society for the respiratory care profession, having met the impressive requirements of holding a GPA in the top 25 percent of her respiratory class. With that, she went on to apply for and win the $2,000 national Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care Stephen P. Mikles, EdD, RRT, FAARC Media Award. The application process required her to put together a 25-30 slide presentation and obtain a letter of recommendation from a respiratory care practitioner, which Rutkowski provided for her.
Lees recalls a defining moment during the clinical component of CCM education. One day after completing her clinical hours in the Morristown NICU, Lees says, “I physically couldn’t walk away, even though I didn’t work there. Knowing that I could help, just a little bit, I got permission from Professor Rutkowski that I could stay. I was able to set up equipment for the babies coming out of the delivery room. I felt like I was actually doing something. I wasn’t in the way. All the doctors there were so nice, they taught me everything.”
Lees graduated Magna Cum Laude with her Associate in Applied Science degree and then registered for her board exams. Passing the Certified Respiratory Therapist exam, she went on to pass the Registered Respiratory Therapist credential and received her state issued license. Her plan now is to both work in her field and on her bachelor’s degree.
Understanding the reality of another human’s life in her hands, due to her own moments under the care of respiratory therapists, Lees is confident in her career choice. “I enjoy being able to use my moments as a patient, to help other people and to have that as my career is certainly fulfilling,” says Lees.