As Respiratory Care Week unfolds, we at rtNOW couldn’t think of a better time to spotlight an individual whose career journey embodies the spirit and evolution of the profession. Curt Merriman, BA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC, our very own Chief Sales Officer, has traversed a winding and rich path in the world of respiratory therapy. From an unexpected introduction to the field to creating transformative platforms like rtNOW. Curt’s story is one of exploration, adaptation, and unwavering dedication. We sat down with him to delve into his experiences, insights, and hopes for the future of respiratory care. Join us as we uncover the narrative of a professional whose intuition and adaptability have made him a beacon in the respiratory care community.
How did you first get into the field of respiratory therapy?
I knew healthcare was the direction I wanted, and I had a neighbor who was a Physical Therapist and went to a college to check into the PTA program. The counselor at the college suggested I should look into RT. I had not heard of a respiratory therapist, and after his description of the profession, I thought it sounded interesting. He called the Director of Respiratory Therapy at the hospital next to the college, and he was willing to meet with me that same day to tell me more about being an RT.
After I met with the RT Director, I enrolled in the AAS Respiratory Therapy program, and the rest is history. Great spontaneous decision-I had a good gut feeling about this.
Can you share a pivotal moment in your career that shaped your journey?
There are many; however, becoming actively involved with my state RT society (MSRC) and the national organization, the American Association for Respiratory Care (ARRC), and the House of Delegates of the AARC allowed me to grow as a professional and work with incredibly accomplished peers. This network of RT’s has played an instrumental role in my professional growth and accomplishments. The example below is a bit more specific.
In June 2004, I wanted to try something outside of the healthcare industry and started an independent LLC-M.M.C Trucking (the acronym stood for “Merriman’s Midlife Crisis”). Primarily hauling sand, gravel, etc. for road construction. I did remain connected in the RT community, as I was the President of the MN Society for Respiratory Care during this time. When I parked the truck for the season, I applied as a staff RT with C.O.R.E. Respiratory Services. It was a locally owned staffing company started by 4 RT’s, and I started working in a variety of hospitals for this new start up company. C.O.R.E. was also an acronym standing for “Community Of Respiratory Excellence”. After working for a few short months, I became completely stoked by this company, and I ended up buying out one of the owners to become a partner in the company. This transition revitalized my passion for respiratory therapy and my creative, outside the box thinking about delivering respiratory therapy.
This led to starting rtNOW in 2016 with the C.O.R.E. Respiratory Services business partners Randy Kuzel, Patricia Johnson, along with Bryan Wattier and Justin Hawley! Chuck Stadler purchased C.O.R.E. Respiratory Services and rtNOW in December of 2017.
Strengths & Weaknesses
What would you consider your greatest strength as a Respiratory Therapist?
Willingness to think outside the box!
Were there any weaknesses or challenges you had to overcome? How did you address them?
While working as a Director of Respiratory Care in a hospital system in the twin cities, my boss was also the General Manager of a hospital based DME company. He asked me to join the DME as a salesperson. He felt that with my connections in the RT community and the fact that I liked talking, it would be a good fit. This was a challenge because this was completely new to me, being in “sales”. I was mentored by an excellent, experienced salesperson, read books on sales, and went to sales training courses. I was able to grow in my sales skills and eventually moved into sales management roles.
Are there particular cases or experiences that you'll never forget? What made them so impactful?
There are two experiences that are highlights of my professional career as an RT.
- 2020 MN Society for Respiratory Care recognition H. Frederick Helmhollz, Jr., MD, Scientific Lecture Award for contributions to the RT profession
- 2022 American Association of Respiratory Care selection and recognition as a Fellow of the AARC (FAARC) for significant and prominent leadership, influence, and achievement in the respiratory care profession
Can you share the funniest or most unexpected thing that happened to you during your time as an RT?
I had the opportunity to work as an RT for C.O.R.E. Respiratory Services at a hospital one of my daughters worked at as an RN. She called down the hallway, “Hey Curt!” We both started laughing because she said it just felt too weird to call me “dad” at the hospital we were both working at.
Lessons & Growth
What was the biggest lesson you learned in your profession?
There are many opportunities in the RT profession if you are willing to expand your knowledge and take chances. Embracing the opportunity for change.
Are there any mistakes or challenges that turned into valuable learning experiences?
One of my challenges: Early in my career, one of my RT leader mentors encouraged me to do some public speaking at the MSRC local education meetings in front of my peers. I had never done any real public speaking before, so I said yes. This turned out to be very beneficial to my professional growth and development. I do enjoy the microphone now!
Mentorship & Peer Growth
Who were your role models or people you looked up to in the respiratory care field?
I have a few that come to mind. Russ Kruger was my first RT Director to hire me when I was a 2nd year RT student. He continued to be a mentor of mine throughout the coarse of my career. David R. Johnson, the second Director of RT to hire me, and John Ryan, the supervisor working with Dave Johnson. These two encouraged my involvement in the MSRC and going back to school for my BA in Management. Dennis Forsberg challenged me to go outside of my comfort zone and step into sales.
Can you talk about peers or colleagues with whom you've grown and evolved throughout your career?
One of the most significant growth opportunities for me was being elected into the House of Delegates (HOD) for the AARC. I was fortunate enough to serve 2- four year terms and also served two consecutive terms as Treasurer for the HOD. The networking and friendships I developed over those years have been remarkable in my professional career, knowledge, and growth.
Vision for the Future
How do you see the future of respiratory care evolving?
I see that Emergency Departments and Critical Care units will always have a need for RT’s. Where I see more growth and opportunity is in community home based respiratory therapy. RT has a unique and comprehensive knowledge of the cardiopulmonary system, and we have excellent assessment skills as a result of our education and training. This knowledge, combined with critical thinking skills and the ability to relate to patients directly, will have a profound impact if we move more into the pulmonary navigator/disease management realm of healthcare.
With advancements in technology and the changing healthcare landscape, where do you think the biggest transformations will happen in the field?
As RT’s, we need to collect more data about what we are providing and, more importantly, what we can provide, and get the “word out” with this data to health system payers and Medicare. This will enhance the profession’s ability to be recognized as a profession that should be reimbursed for the knowledge and service we provide to patients.
Advice for the Community
What tips would you offer to new Respiratory Therapists just starting out?
Get involved with your state respiratory society and be a member of your professional organization (AARC) Be a career long learner. Seek a work environment that will encourage and feed your passion. Networking throughout the profession, both statewide and nationally.
For seasoned RTs, what advice can you provide to continue growing and staying passionate in the profession?
Same as the RT just starting out. Engage with your professional colleagues and get involved. Networking!
As you prepare to retire, what message or legacy do you hope to leave behind for the rtNOW community and the broader field of respiratory care?
Trust your gut instincts, do the right thing for the right reasons, and be honest with yourself and others. Be a professional seeking excellence in what you do, and it will bring you respect and fulfillment.
”Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
A Tribute to Curt's Lasting Impact
Reflecting on our conversation with Curt Merriman, we are brimming with appreciation. Beyond his remarkable achievements and deep commitment to the field, what truly sets Curt apart is his profound mentorship and the heartfelt connections he’s nurtured. His gift for making each person feel valued and embraced has touched countless hearts. Combine this with his unwavering determination, spirited drive, and infectious sense of humor, and it’s easy to see why he’s left such a lasting impact on all of us at rtNOW and in the RT community. Each of us can surely recount our cherished “Curt moments,” tales of his guidance and support that have shaped our own journeys. As the horizon of his well-deserved retirement comes into view, there’s a bittersweet undertone to our gratitude. Yet, the essence of Curt, his wisdom, humor, and teachings, will continue to uplift and inspire us. Curt, for all the joy, lessons, and camaraderie you’ve shared, we offer our heartfelt thanks. Your influence will be felt forever, ensuring your legacy shines brightly in every corner of rtNOW.