She believed she could, so she did

Haley Lemke’s journey to her dream job

blond subject on roof and cloudy weather
Haley waiting for her next flight.

Haley Lemke’s journey from a student at Western Technical College to a trusted respiratory therapist at Children’s Minnesota reflects her hard work, dedication to a good plan, and genuine passion for helping others. Graduating from Western’s Respiratory Therapy program in 2019, Haley embarked on a transformative path that would shape her career and positively impact countless vulnerable young lives. 

Growing up in Holmen, Wisconsin, Haley knew she wanted something in healthcare, but did not think nursing was for her. Her high school guidance counselor suggested exploring other areas, for example respiratory therapy, or x-ray or ultrasound technician programs. Haley agreed a great place to start would be Western since it’s so close to home. The first and last program she explored was Respiratory Therapy—she immediately found her area of interest! A tour of Western opened her eyes to the possibilities within the field, and a classroom shadowing experience solidified her decision to pursue this path.  

Despite the financial constraints of higher education, Haley remained undeterred. She skillfully balanced four career-related jobs while attending school, all fueled by her serious commitment to contribute something positive to the world.

During her time at Western, Haley found a supportive community that fostered her growth and development as a healthcare professional. The respiratory therapy students, all 14 of them, became a close-knit cohort and supported each other along the way. The intimate class sizes and personalized attention from instructors gave her the tools to thrive. Engaging in hands-on learning experiences during clinical rotations at prestigious institutions like Mayo Clinic and Gundersen Health System, Haley gained invaluable skills and knowledge that helped prepare her for the challenges of her future career.

Haley secured her internship at Children’s Minnesota her last year at Western. She knew she wanted to work with kids, so she applied accordingly. Children’s Minnesota is the only health system in the state dedicated exclusively to children, and the only Level I Trauma Center in Minnesota that provides comprehensive care from prenatal to young adulthood. In other words, a great place to learn and grow. 

After eight months of working 12-hour alternating weekend dayshifts as an intern, she graduated from Western. Haley took three national board exams; CRT (certified respiratory therapist), RRT (registered respiratory therapist), and NPS (neonate pediatric specialty). Then Haley transitioned to a full-time registered respiratory therapist working straight 12-hour night shifts. Immersed in the fast-paced environment of a level one trauma center, she gained firsthand experience throughout the hospital: all ICU and ER floors, CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit), and PICU (pediatric care unit) solidifying her passion for working with children. Now, she primarily works in NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where she attends deliveries, gestations ranging from 22 weeks to 41 weeks, and provides critical care to infants and children with respiratory ailments. Haley embraces every opportunity to help her young patients and their loved ones. Families stay at the hospital for anywhere from a handful of days to a year. Haley’s relationship building strengths are a needed source of comfort for families; she lets them know that their child is in the best place they can be. 

Haley is excited about the opportunities for growth and advancement in her career. Currently undergoing training for the neonatal transport team, she embraces new challenges with enthusiasm. This coveted opportunity requires her to venture beyond hospital walls to provide crucial assistance to babies in need alongside a travelling team of a nurse practitioner and two paramedics. Their missions take them to various locations as far west as the Dakotas, as far north as International Falls and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They also support the local Twin Cities hospitals as well as hospitals in Hudson and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and travel using different modes of transportation, including ambulances, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft.  

The transport team assignments vary greatly, from routine consultations to urgent cases involving critically ill infants. As the respiratory therapist on the team, Haley handles tasks typically performed by nurses, such as assisting with intubation, chest tube and umbilical line placement. Haley also handles medication dosage calculation and administration, and patient ventilation care. The training for the team is extensive and thorough: Haley had been on countless ride-alongs with a seasoned respiratory therapist, experienced months of simulations, and learned all the support skills and equipment used during transport. This immersive learning experience equips her with the confidence and expertise needed to navigate high-stress situations effectively. 

Maintaining mental health in an emotionally demanding career is crucial and another important part of job preparation; Haley emphasizes the importance of coping strategies. Stress levels vary day-to-day, and the unpredictability of the job can be tricky. To stay grounded, she takes the hospital’s recommendation of seeking support from colleagues and allow for open discussions about shared challenges, happy times, and sad stories. Talking about emotions and experience processing is essential for mental well-being. Haley sees a therapist regularly as part of her self-care routine. She acknowledges that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and encourages others to express their emotions rather than suppress them. Despite the intense nature of her work, or perhaps because of it, Haley remains compassionate and committed to patient care while prioritizing her own mental health. 

Working in a level 1 trauma hospital has undoubtedly changed Haley as a person. Starting this career at 22 and now at 27, she reflects on her growth. Witnessing the traumatic incidents and the fragility of life in the hospital has been eye-opening. Haley emphasizes the importance of cherishing loved ones and living each day to the fullest. Haley’s outlook on life has shifted, she possesses a deep appreciation for the preciousness of life, making it her biggest personal transformation. Her best piece of advice is to always remain teachable, no matter how far into your career you are.

Haley’s journey at Children’s Minnesota has been marked by growth, learning, and a meaningful impact for the community. Celebrating her fifth anniversary with the hospital in January 2024, Haley reflects on the milestones she’s achieved and the lives she’s touched so far.

Haley’s story is an inspiration to aspiring healthcare professionals—a demonstration of the power of purpose, passion, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. From the initial spark of interest in healthcare to saving tiny lives at Children’s Minnesota, Haley shows us the power of education and finding your place in the world. If it’s emotional and hard, but still feels right and brings you joy every day, that’s perfection. You are in the right place, doing the right things.