an outline of a body and lungs on orange background

Alumnus uses BGSU degree to make difference in healthcare field

Michael Traster '12 made career change and is now a registered respiratory specialist in northeastern Ohio

By Nick Piotrowicz

When Michael Traster ’12 decided it was time for a career change, he knew that he wanted to help people for a living.

After about five years in a different industry, Traster went looking for something new. His mother was a nurse and suggested that he look into healthcare, so he went in search of both job stability and a career through which he could make a difference in the lives of sick people.

More than a decade later, Traster does just that every working day. His decision to enroll at BGSU Firelands and pursue a degree in respiratory care helped lead to a career as a registered respiratory specialist at University Health St. John Medical Center in Westlake, a western suburb of Cleveland.

Respiratory care came into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which respiratory therapists played a hugely important role in caring for those afflicted with the virus. Even with the added caseload from the pandemic, all patients whom Traster sees have one thing in common: They need help breathing.

“I always say that people see us when things aren’t going well,” Traster said. “Their breathing is an issue, so they either need breathing treatments to feel better, they had something like a heart attack and they need to see us, or in the worst case, they need to be put on life support, so we see patients throughout their entire stay at the hospital. 

“You see patients from worst to best and help them walk out the door again. We watch them heal and we’re part of their care the entire time, so it makes a huge difference. For me, I feel like I actually help save people.”

The respiratory care program at BGSU Firelands, formerly an associate’s program, now offers a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Care. The program’s first bachelor’s degree students are scheduled to graduate in May.

Fittingly, some current respiratory care students crossed paths with Traster, who now serves as a preceptor during their clinical rotations.

“It’s great to see Mike come back to be a preceptor, and to see graduates of our program giving back to current students,” program director for respiratory care Carol Puder said.

“When Mike was a student, I remember him really enjoying his time here and trying to learn everything that he could. He really shined in clinicals and excelled working with the patients, and even now with our current students, you can still see the excitement and enthusiasm he has to be a respiratory therapist.” 

Traster’s work ranges from intensive care unit days in which he aids people on ventilators to overseeing treatment for patients with long-term breathing ailments. The process of helping someone breathe again, he said, is what the job is all about.

“For people with emphysema or COPD or severe asthma, they’re so happy to see us because they know that we can help them feel like they’re breathing well again, and that’s definitely worthwhile,” he said. 

As healthcare systems are facing widespread shortages of respiratory therapists, there is an immediate need for more students in the field. Though most graduates work in traditional hospital settings, the BGSU respiratory care degree allows for a number of pathways, Puder said. 

"Most graduates choose to work in a traditional hospital setting, but they can specialize," Puder said. "We have some graduates who work in emergency rooms. They can specialize in neonatal and pediatrics and work in a children’s hospital or in neonatal intensive care units. Respiratory therapists can also work in home care, sleep labs, rehab facilities and some specialize in transport, so there’s a lot you can do with this degree.”

The work is challenging, Traster said, but also worth the effort to help patients of all kinds.

“It’s a self-sacrificing career, but it doesn’t go unnoticed,” Traster said. “A lot of times, people all over thank you and call you a hero. Especially nowadays, it’s very rewarding. If it wasn’t for BG and the program, I wouldn’t have the knowledge, the skills and the expertise to help so many people.”

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 03/17/2022 02:25PM