2020 Nursing Page Update

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Respiratory Therapy program becomes a point of passion for York College student

Nicole with lungs during outdoor fair

Nicole Van Meerbeke ’21 watched as her classmates packed their things and went home at the height of COVID-19 shutdowns in early 2020. But Van Meerbeke, along with others in the Respiratory Care program at York College of Pennsylvania, stayed behind.

“We wanted to provide an extra hand to the other medical providers, and we realized this is something incredibly relevant to the work we’ll do after graduation,” she says.

While Van Meerbeke and her classmates did go home a couple of weeks later and missed out on some of their clinical experience, the New Jersey native was excited to return for her final year of school this fall as she prepares for a career she sees as her passion.

Finding her way

Van Meerbeke came to York College as a Nursing major. She’d never even heard of Respiratory Therapy as a field of study. It was during a class where students examined pig lungs that she realized the specialization that Respiratory Care offered.

“If you aren’t breathing, nothing else is working,” she says. “I was so impressed by the opportunities this area provided and how important it can be to treating patients. I decided to change my major that day.”

In the Respiratory Care program, Van Meerbeke has found more than a major she finds interesting. It’s something she feels is a calling. “We’re the frontline for people who are the sickest of the sick,” she says. “People who are on ventilators and aren’t able to be their own advocates—that’s our job. I was really inspired by the idea that I could be someone’s lifeline.”

Van Meerbeke considers herself an “average student.” In high school, she never had anything she really flourished in. Respiratory therapy is different. Here, she says, she’s found a place where she excels.

Taking the next steps

While she’s excited to jump into her career soon, Van Meerbeke is also looking for the bigger picture. She hopes to attend graduate school or pursue a physician’s assistant program. York College’s clinical experience, which gives students two years of real-world working experience before graduation, helped her see the opportunities that are in the field.

“It’s not like a lot of other schools where you are on a waiting list to get in a good clinical program,” she says. “York College builds this experience into their program. That was one of the first things that made me want to get into respiratory therapy here.”

Getting to jump in and work with patients from day one is an experience that Van Meerbeke knows has prepared her for a post-COVID-19 work environment. She hopes to work in the trauma field and be a clinical leader, pushing herself to excel in an area that has changed her perspective on healthcare.

“This career is very humbling,” she says. “For me, it’s why I take it so personally. If I love it so much, I’m sure other people would, too, if they knew this field was out there.”