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UNCW's Krystal Byers Is a Standout Respiratory Care Student

UNCW HEA Krystal Byers

Krystal Byers loves making a difference in patients' lives. A respiratory care assistant (RCA) and student in the Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT) program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), Krystal can't wait to take her skills to the next level.

"I love to help people. My goal is to be there and make people feel like they're not alone and like they have someone who will advocate for them," she said. "Sometimes in hospital settings, you have people who don't have families or have families that live forever away, and you might be the only person they have to talk to."

Byers joined UNCW's BSRT program in the fall of 2021 and expects to graduate in May 2023. A UNCW honors student as well, Byers has excelled in the program and is part of the Dean's Student Leadership Advisory Council in UNCW's College of Health and Human Services (CHHS).

" I was also selected to be a fellow for student engagement," she said. "They've never had a student on the panel before or as part of the fellowship. They have advisory meetings to talk about the program and the development. I am one of the students who sits in on those meetings."

Back to the UNCW

Before deciding on the BSRT program, Byers had many options and interests, but her focus was always on healthcare and serving others.

"I actually started with UNCW in 2018, but I started as a pre-nursing student, and then I switched between a couple of majors," she said. "I tried out recreation therapy. I wanted to do pre-med at one time, so I was a biology major … I went to nursing school for a year and then came back to UNCW because I just loved the culture.

"I didn't even know what respiratory therapy was until I got into the program," she said. "I worked in an emergency room for two years, but I worked as a clerk, so I had run into respiratory therapists when we had traumas or something like that. I didn't understand what they did until I was involved."

UNCW provided the right environment and opportunity for Byers to discover respiratory care and further explore her passion for healthcare. She was first drawn to UNCW for its convenient location, but Byers soon learned how much the program and faculty had to offer.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Byers lives in Jacksonville and initially chose UNCW due to its proximity, but she soon learned that the school and its BSRT program were the perfect fit. As an RCA, Byers appreciates how the program allows her to further develop.

"I'm a little older than most students, so I was more focused on academics and research and … I just feel like UNCW is developing so much," she said. "I fell in love with the faculty and staff and the setting.

"I'm actually in the very first cohort … Once I got in, I fell in love ... Respiratory has kind of been my life since then."

While she doesn't have a single favorite professor, Byers appreciates all the faculty members' patience and helpfulness.

The BSRT program has also helped expand her access to other professional learning and networking opportunities, such as the conference held by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC).

"That conference was so eye-opening. I never realized all the stuff respiratory therapists do and how many people respect their position," she said. "I got to see some great lectures, some great speakers, and it was a great experience to hype up a respiratory therapist."

Byers is using this experience to inform her own ideas about her future career.

"I'm so passionate about so many different things," she said. "So, I'm hoping to get into NICU at some point, but I know I don't want to stop with my bachelor's. I want to get a master's or even continue on to get maybe an Ed.D. or a Ph.D.

"I'm interested in learning and developing as a therapist, and that's my short-term goal, to get into a good hospital and develop my skills."

A Passion for Healthcare

In addition to working full time while earning good grades and a prestigious fellowship, Byers is raising three sons: Isaac (15), Evan (12) and Donald (4). Her friends and family are impressed with her ability to juggle responsibilities.

"They are proud," she said, "but they're also, like, 'I don't know how you do it.'"

"I want a better life for my kids. I want them to understand that if I can do it, having them while working, and get a degree, once it comes time for them to graduate and think about college, technical school or whatever it is that they might be passionate about, they can complete it as well."

Byers' passion and resolve helped her excel in the BSRT program, so she has plenty of insight into how to succeed as a student while pursuing a respiratory health career. She emphasizes the importance of being confident and committed and has advice for anyone considering a bachelor's degree in this medical specialty.

"I would tell them they need to make sure it's something they actually want to do," she said. "This is not a program you go into and do not take seriously because we are holding other people's lives in our hands … You have to love healthcare, and you have to want to help other people."

"I don't think many people realize this degree exists, and I just want people to know it is a hard program, but if I can get through it, anybody can get through it."

Learn more about UNCW's online Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (RRT-BSRT) Degree Advancement program.

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