Two RTs prove that it is possible to create their own
success by starting Western States Clinical Research.
Are you troubled that your
morale is low? Do you feel that you are not getting enough
respect? Are you concerned by the lack of opportunities in the
respiratory care profession? Maybe you have been wondering,
“What has the respiratory care profession done for me lately?”
I have often heard these questions asked by my peers and no
doubt you have too. But perhaps we are asking the wrong
questions and looking in the wrong places for answers. To
mangle the words of John F. Kennedy, perhaps you should ask
not what respiratory care can do for you, instead, ask what
you can do for respiratory care.
Did you ever consider where morale comes from? If you think
it comes from your department head or medical director, then
you have surrendered responsibility for your own happiness and
professional success to someone else. You end up with the
morale you deserve.
I often hear that a strong, respected respiratory care
department is the result of a strong medical director who
respects RCPs and makes things happen for them. But respect
(spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T) is not just a great Motown hit and it
is not something that can be requisitioned by a department
head. Respect is like a bank account. We make deposits and
withdrawals with every action we take, or fail to take, with
every minute of each day. Our respect, or the lack of it, is a
result of the collective actions of every RCP.
Many RCPs have expressed regret that doors did not
magically fly open when their state achieved licensure. They
have once again made the critical mistake of expecting someone
else to “make it happen” for them. But there is a simple
answer and the beauty of it is that each of us has complete
control of the outcome.
The answer is to create our own opportunities and it is not
that difficult to do. When RCPs look to expand their horizons,
they will typically find opportunities throughout the health
care system including specializing in neonatal intensive care
units, pulmonary function laboratories, transport teams, home
care, and foreign service positions. Opportunities outside
“the system” include writing feature articles, volunteering
for various camps, and developing community asthma education
or smoking cessation programs. The list is limited only by our
imaginations. All we have to do, as the popular Nike ad says,
is “Just do it.”
A Success Story
There are countless
stories about RCPs who took complete responsibility for their
own destiny and I have never heard one of them regret the
decision to try to make something happen. I would like to
share a success story that shows how a simple vision and a
strong commitment can lead to the ultimate reward:
professional job satisfaction.
Dara Stillman, CRTT, and Sheri Casey, CRTT, forged their
own road to a new horizon by starting Western States Clinical
Research, a successful pharmaceutical research business in
Denver, which has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. I
had the opportunity to talk with Stillman about how she
developed and nurtured a dream into reality.
About 10 years ago, Stillman was working a 10-hour shift, 3
days a week at a Denver hospital when she was presented with
an opportunity to join a pulmonology group doing clinical
She made the transition with a bit of trepidation. “At
first, I thought what they were doing was very interesting,
but I was used to the regimentation of the hospital. Clinical
research wasn’t as structured and there was a lot of variety.
You had to look around, prioritize, and decide which was the
most important thing to do next. It wasn’t always very
obvious,” Stillman says.
She made the leap and found the world of clinical
pharmaceutical studies to be very satisfying work. “We were
doing ipratropium bromide studies for people with COPD
(chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and tracking how the
drug worked for them. That actually turned out to be an
excellent medication for people with COPD,” she says.
Another rewarding study was with the nicotine patch. “We
did some of the first studies on two different nicotine
patches by two study sponsors and recruited people who wanted
to quit smoking and wanted to try this out; these things were
brand-new. We offered counseling groups as part of the study.
We would evaluate each person every week and then they would
go to their group.” She continues, “It was interesting. Some
[of the study participants] were nurses from the hospital and
I ran into a few of them years later and found that they had
remained nonsmokers. They were exuberant about the whole
experience. That’s a good feeling because here I was doing
research and actually made a very positive long-term
difference in somebody’s life.”
things began to unravel. There were numerous changes at the
pulmonary office where she conducted the studies. The
physicians who had been the principal investigators had left,
and it became apparent that for autonomy, job security, and
morale, it would be necessary to start their own clinical
“We told the new doctors that things really had to change,”
Stillman explained. “We also told them that we had decided to
form our own study coordinating group and no longer wanted to
be employees. We wanted to be partners with them in doing
research and felt that we knew all the ins and outs of
research and they really did not.”
The physicians were not at all receptive to the idea. At
that point, many people would have been polishing off their
resumes and looking for other work, but Stillman had bigger
plans. She enjoyed doing clinical research, knew she could do
quality work, and thought she could find a way to make it
Stillman and her partner, also an RCP, put the word out
that they were forming their own study coordinating group.
Almost immediately, one of the pharmaceutical companies called
back and said, “We know the kind of work you do and we realize
that a lot of the outcome of how well a clinical trial is
carried out rests on the shoulders of the coordinators. So if
you find a doctor, these studies are yours.”
They had one small problem—they needed a physician to
oversee their work and act as a principal investigator.
Eventually, they found an internal medicine specialist who
could see the benefits of the research and look at the
relationship from a completely different point of view. He
could participate in the study, be competently paid for his
participation, but did not have to be involved in payroll,
recruiting, and hiring and firing of staff members.
The process was rough at first because they had a
substantial lag between the time they started the studies and
when they were remunerated for their work. “We were on a
shoestring. We used savings and were charging things on credit
cards,” Stillman says. “I think we each worked about 3 days a
week and made about 11 cents an hour.”
They solved their
problems one at a time and took responsibility for the
outcome. Ultimately, Western States Clinical Research grew
into a respected and successful pharmaceutical research
business with a gross income of nearly $1 million per year.
But, she cautions, “A lot of it goes right back to the
doctors, overhead, etc. We operate at a level of being busy
that’s comfortable to us.”
Stillman continues, “Neither Sheri nor I are workaholics.
We’re very comfortable [with] where we are. Plus, we feel that
it’s really important to maintain some control over all
aspects. If we became really busy and had to hire a larger
staff, it would be harder to control the quality of the work
Stillman knows her work is respected and told me what she
likes best about her career. “Being in charge of our own
destiny and of our own work is a nice change of pace from
working in the hospital with people who are often desperately
sick. We like being able to pick and choose our own projects.
And it’s rewarding to work on some studies where you see that
the product is going to benefit people. When it’s really
something innovative, new, and different, you see incredible
results,” she says. Most important, issues of morale, respect,
and professional opportunities are not a problem for her. She
takes responsibility for that herself.
We all wish that the system and our department heads would
offer us more money, greater autonomy, and the respect we
deserve. And in fact, they will. But it is entirely in our own
hands to make it happen… so what are you waiting for?
John A. Wolfe, RRT, is a contributing writer for