Getting to Know our Leaders in the Sleep Field
Editors Note: This is the second in a series of blogs where Amy Korn Reavis asks her mentors, role models, and people she admires about the field of sleep. View part I here.
The next two people who answered my questions are people who I have learned a great deal from. Henry Johns is one of the original leaders in the sleep field. When I worked in Kansas City, he was the man you wanted to learn from. He is one of the original sleep techs who helped shape our field. Anglee Leviner has no problem expressing herself. She recently was recognized with an AAST award for her writing. She shares her knowledge with those who are new to the field. She will be part of the future of sleep medicine.
How did you get into the field?
Henry Johns (HJ): I was a respiratory therapist working in an ICU in 1988, when a pulmonologist handed me an article in CHEST about apnea and cyclic desaturation. He asked me if we could start doing sleep studies and I said "Yes." I had no clue what I was talking about, but soon found myself sitting with a Grass Model 6 & Omedia oximeter. Within a year, we had a Vitalog system and were doing home testing.
Anglee Leviner (AL): There's nothing grand or glamorous about how I started in sleep. Like many people in my generation, I lacked direction after high school and some college. Being unsure what the life plan was, I went on an adventure on the west coast to find myself. There was no plan to ever come back, but months in, I was bored with doing nothing. My mother called me one day and said "Anglee, there's an opportunity to start a profession I know you'll enjoy, get your behind home!" As much as I dislike admitting it -- she was right. My mother trained me, on the job, and the rest is history!
Why did you decide to go into the leadership role?
HJ: I have never thought of myself as a leader as much as a guy who can't say no. I was never a leader in HS or College. I volunteered for the AAST (APT) in order to give something back to the field. I served on the program committee and was appointed vice chair and then chair. At the same time, I became a site visitor for the CoA PST, was appointed to the board of directors, and am now president elect.
AL: Through online networking, I became aware of the issue born of the new exam the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM) had announced. Based on the information I was receiving, I became involved in finding solutions and ways to arm my fellow sleep technologists against what I was told was a threat. As anyone who knows me in any capacity will quickly confirm, I'm fond of playing devil's advocate in order to strengthen my own and other's viewpoints. Doing this allows one to prepare for debate with the other side when it arises, and to not be caught without a response to their points. During my research and discussion of the new exam, I uncovered numerous inconsistencies and exaggerations. I felt as though I was suddenly standing in the eye of a hurricane, calmly able to see all the lies and strife. The online community of networking sleep professionals isn't large or connected enough to spread the information, so I decided I needed to write an informative article. After that, it became clear to me just how much writing impacted the field. Writing is something that has always come very easy for me. And where I come from, using our time and talents to help the community is just what people do.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while working in the field of sleep?
HJ: That everyone brings something to the table in this profession and that is what makes it such a dynamic field. As I said, I was (still am) an RT, that body of knowledge is what I bring. I have worked with R. EEG. T.'s who taught me volumes in exchange for what I offered.
AL: Pick your battles. I've passed this advice on many times to professionals frustrated with their management or medical direction. When a mistake in treatment, reporting, ordering, the whole process is just a matter of pride, I've found it's best to let it go. If a mistake in those matters endangers the patient, compliance, or appropriate treatment -- stand up for the patient's best interest.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while working?
HJ: There have been a lot of moments over the past 24 years. One of the best was a quiet night with two seemingly normal patients. I was nodding off and getting that 3 a.m. whiplash when the female patient began to scream at the top of her lungs and wave her arms. It startled me so that the chair rolled out from under me, I almost hit the floor, jumped up, grabbed a flash light, ran to her room only to find her quietly sleeping. I sat for a long time trying to figure out what happened, rewound the video tape to see if it really happened or not. It was my first case of night terrors.
AL: I was working in a new lab, and new equipment can take some acclimation time. I could not for the life of me figure out why the PTAF signal was not coming through. All wires were plugged in the appropriate spots, switches flipped on. So I called support and explained how everything was where it needed to be. "Did you check the batteries?" he asked. I didn't realize it took 9V batteries! How embarrassing.
What do you see for the future of sleep and of sleep technicians?
HJ: I think the future of sleep is going to be as exciting and dynamic as the first 40 or so years have been. There is still so much to learn and discover about human sleep. New fads come and go, new technology, new practice models, but the challenge is still there. Every night.
AL: In the future of sleep, I see innovation, variety, and genius. The sleep technicians who do their job, and leave it behind at work will give in to the idea that home sleep testing is replacing us. They will give in, and move on to a new field. The genius within the field will conceive of a new role. This concept is very exciting; I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees redundancy in the NPSG-PAP model of work. Once in a while we have the opportunity to get excited about a rare or complicated case, but not often. The Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP) does not have an auto adjusting capacity yet. The bridge between the dental sleep medicine world and our polysomnography world is coming together. Sleep technicians will be needed across that bridge. The variety of tasks that we, as sleep technicians, will be able to apply our knowledge and education to is staggering. And I, for one, cannot wait to jump in and experience it all!