Stepping Back to Move Forward

Friday, February 2, 2018

As the excitement of graduation fades away, the reality of making big life decisions looms ahead. For Bethelhem Markos, the best decision-making strategy for moving forward after earning her undergraduate degree: stepping back.

Markos returned home to Laurel, Maryland, to work as a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health and physical therapy technician while she plotted a plan for the future after graduating from Boston University with a bachelor of science degree in human physiology. During this period, Markos dug deeply to identify her interests and goals and research the wide array of opportunities before her. Nearly two years later, she now finds herself on the road to a meaningful and satisfying career as a first-year student in the RUSH University College of Health Science’s master of science in respiratory care program.

We talked to Markos about her journey to RUSH, the field of respiratory care and her aspirations for the future.

What was your plan after graduating from college?

After graduating, I went back to Maryland to live at home and work for a year as a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health and as a physical therapy technician. This gave me time to figure out what my next move would be. I knew I wanted to go into a master’s or postgraduate program. I took a step back and took a close look at my options.

How did you land on a master’s degree in respiratory care?

Helping others and applying science: That’s always been my focus. I just didn’t know exactly which direction to take. First, I considered being a physician or maybe a nurse. And then, I took a closer look at allied health professions. In fact, I was looking at another program at RUSH’s College of Health Sciences when I came upon the master’s degree in respiratory care. I didn’t even realize there was a master’s program in this field.

Why did respiratory care seem like a good fit?

I was drawn to the idea of working in a critical care environment. The different populations respiratory therapists work with — neonates, babies, older adults — also appealed to me. And when I investigated the respiratory care profession more, I discovered that the field is moving in an exciting direction. Bachelor’s degrees are just now becoming a career entry point; it’s a fairly new profession. With a master’s degree, I believed there would be great opportunities for advancement and leadership roles. This is a pivotal time for this field, which I found exciting.


RUSH has one of the few master’s programs in respiratory care in the country and wants to nurture and develop leaders and innovators in this field, as well as be on the forefront of research in critical care. RUSH is also committed to community and global health. I wanted to be part of all of that.

What are your clinical interests?

Before coming to RUSH, I shadowed a respiratory therapist in a neonatal intensive care unit and got some exposure to that environment. I’m very interested in working in the NICU down the line, because I’ve always had a passion for caring for babies. And from a physiological perspective, that population is incredibly interesting. But most important, I feel as though I could do the most good in an NICU.

Any other goals?

My family is from Ethiopia, and I’ve visited there. The health care system in Ethiopia needs serious help as people die from diseases that are easily treated here in the United States. When investigating respiratory therapy, I looked specifically at respiratory problems in Ethiopia, and I found that preemie babies have a high mortality rate because the country doesn’t have needed respiratory care equipment or trained professionals. At some point, I’d really love to go on a medical trip there and help make a difference.

One of the big draws of RUSH for me was that students and clinicians take global health trips. RUSH University puts an emphasis on volunteering and engaging in community and global health initiatives.

Have you volunteered since coming to RUSH University?

Yes, I’ve volunteered through student government. And I helped out at the Chicago Half Marathon as part of the CHEST Foundation’s efforts to educate the community about lung health. We provided spirometry tests before the runners took off to see how well their lungs were performing. We also gave out health information on asthma.

And on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as part of the RUSH Community Service Initiatives Program, we went to an underserved community to give out smoking cessation and asthma information, show community members how to use inhalers and perform screenings for chronic respiratory health disease.

Was there anything that surprised you about RUSH once you got here?

I didn’t realize how much support I’d get! I came from a huge school, Boston University, with big class sizes. Professors didn’t know my name until senior year. Here, right off the bat I had very small class sizes. At RUSH, professors certainly care about my work, but they also care about how I’m doing as a person, how I’m getting through the program and how I’m handling my course load.

Knowing that they are here for me now — and in the future — is so reassuring. I see how they interact with second-year students and graduates, and it’s reassuring to know that they will be there for me, too, down the road. I know their support is not temporary, and they will be there for me throughout my career. Professors at RUSH will be great resources for me as I move forward in my profession.

What advice would you give to people who are interested in careers in respiratory health?

What helped me: shadowing a respiratory therapist and visiting a respiratory care program. These experiences helped me make my final decision to pursue this degree. You really need to do your research in the field because it’s not for everyone. You must be comfortable working with critically ill people in a fast-paced environment. Make sure that’s what you want to do, and take the decision to do it seriously.

Learn more about the respiratory care program at RUSH.