State-of-the-art equipment helps set Polk State Respiratory Care students up for success

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

With newly acquired modern equipment, experienced instructors, and a track record of success, Polk State College’s Respiratory Program adequately prepares students for a rewarding career in the field.

The two-year program awards an Associate in Science degree and prepares its graduates to be outstanding entry-level respiratory therapists. Regarded as one of the top Respiratory Care programs in the state of Florida, Polk State is coming off a banner year.

“After meeting our amazing directors, I just knew that I wanted to be part of that success,” said student Deeandreaya Davis. “My favorite thing about this program is we get so much knowledge and skill sets that we learn in the classroom setting and we get to apply it in the clinical setting where we practice on actual patients who are in need of respiratory help.”

State-of-the-art equipment

To best simulate a clinical setting, Polk State recently utilized Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funds to purchase modern state-of-the-art equipment.

“We’ve got an adult simulator, a pediatric and neonatal simulator,” said Kiarra Javier, a student in the program. “Those are excellent for learning different clinical procedures.”

“I’d never seen this equipment, so it was all new to me,” fellow student Christopher Hamilton added. “It was great to see the newer equipment that’s in the hospital. It helps us get a real-life simulated experience.”

Clinical Coordinator Jordan Emro noted that key relationships with clinical partners, community stakeholders, and advisory board members keep the program abreast of what’s needed to stay at the forefront of the respiratory care field. Stakeholders in hospital facilities helped with the selection of the recently acquired equipment.

“Ensuring that our students are prepared with this type of equipment before they go to the hospital setting is a top priority,” Emro said. “It allows them to be comfortable and well prepared. We received two GlideScope systems with a bronchoscopy attachment. We (also) received two new specialty beds, so they actually get to perform percussion and vibration, which is what we do in the hospital.”

A proven success

Recently promoted to Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, longtime Program Director Shana Kent-Smith has called the Respiratory Care Program one of the best-kept secrets at Polk State, but over the last year, that secret has gotten out. In 2023, the program was recognized with multiple awards, including the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Therapist Credentialing Success Award for the ninth straight year.

“Our classroom instructors, our clinical instructors, our clinical coordinator, we all take pride in ensuring that our graduates are not only well prepared, but (that) they’re also poised to make a significant contribution to the everlasting, ever-evolving respiratory care profession,” Kent-Smith said. “The healthcare industry is continuously advancing in innovative technology. Respiratory care stands out in the evolution when it comes to healthcare. Polk State has escalated its standards with high-fidelity equipment.”

Last year, the program also received the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Credential Award and was one of four programs nominated for the Healthcare Education Commission’s Exemplary Practice Award.

“My experience has been amazing,” student Emily Dzvonik said. “The material and expectations have been intense, but I have definitely learned so much. I have the confidence to perform the things that I have learned. The equipment and technology available to us has been extremely helpful in performing everything that we learn in the lab setting, so that we’re fully prepared when we walk into the hospital.”

Over the latest reporting period from 2019 to 2021, Polk State Respiratory Care graduates have boasted a 100% rate for job placement, credentialing success, employer satisfaction, and graduate satisfaction. The 2023 class had perfect job placement and credentialing rates.

“I chose Polk State because I heard the program here was one of the best,” Hamilton explained. “The professors and teachers are really caring and understanding. They actually help you and guide you. The clinical instructors give you a real good experience at the hospital. They try to prepare you to become a respiratory therapist.”

Six students in the program were recently selected to participate in paid externships at BayCare Winter Haven Hospital and Lakeland Regional Health.

“This initiative not only demonstrates the commitment of our stakeholders to the success of our students but also underscores the invaluable real-world experience they will gain,” Kent-Smith noted. “We believe that this collaboration will further enhance the educational journey of our students, providing them with practical insights and skills that will contribute to their future success in their respective fields. We extend our gratitude to our dedicated stakeholders for their continued support in fostering a holistic learning environment for our students.”

High pay and future needs

Graduates are eligible for a state respiratory care license upon successful completion of the state board exam, allowing them to work as respiratory therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for respiratory therapists is more than $70,000 annually.

“I chose the Respiratory Care Program because it’s not a field that a lot of people are aware of,” Javier said. “The respiratory care team is a huge part of any clinical aspect and I wanted to contribute.”

The number of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 13% — much faster than the average for all occupations – between 2022 and 2032. Polk State’s application period runs from April 1 through May 30. More information is available at

“My advice to future Polk State respiratory care students is to persevere, work very hard, not be discouraged and to be very passionate about your patients,” Javier concluded. “They need you.”