(Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. – July 20, 2020) Jahlissa Powell has always wanted to help people, and now she’ll get the chance. As a new respiratory therapist at Jupiter Medical Center, she will be among the frontline health care professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m actually really excited to enter the field right now, even though it is a pandemic,” said Powell, who graduated magna cum laude in May from Palm Beach State College’s Respiratory Care Associate in Science degree program, which is based on the Palm Beach Gardens campus. “Now that I’m an RRT, I can help people get off of ventilators, get them better, get them back home to their families and back to a normal life.”
RRT, which stands for registered respiratory therapist, is nationally recognized as the key credential in the field. Only graduates of respiratory care programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care can take the RRT credentialing exams administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care. Graduates must pass two exams in order to become an RRT and be eligible for state licensure.
Powell not only passed the exams, she soared to the top of this or any class. On the multiple-choice exam, Powell scored higher than any other PBSC Respiratory Care graduate in the history of the 31-year-old program. On the clinical simulation exam, her score placed her a whopping 29 points above the nationwide average.
“We are very excited about our newest hire Jahlissa Powell,” said Christopher C. Jones, BSRT, RRT, who is director of Respiratory Services at Jupiter Medical Center. “She was one of the top students in her class at PBSC, which many in our field consider to be a world-class respiratory program. Jahlissa completed her second-year practicals here at JMC, so we knew how much of a rock star we were hiring. Her enthusiasm for learning and true concern for the care of her patients will benefit all those who we serve at JMC.”
Born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Powell and her family moved to Louisiana when she was very young, but after Hurricane Katrina, they moved to Florida. At Inlet Grove Community High School in Riviera Beach, she studied licensed practical nursing, but the experience made her realize that she wanted to be a health care specialist, not a generalist. Her favorite subject had been respiratory care, so it was a perfect fit when she discovered the Respiratory Care program while pursuing her Associate in Arts degree at PBSC.
After completing her A.A. degree in December 2017, she was accepted into the two-year Respiratory Care program, which includes lectures, labs and clinical rotations at local hospitals. In addition to the full-time program, Powell juggled two jobs: one as a PBSC math tutor and the other as a sales associate at Bed Bath and Beyond. “I literally had no days off,” she said.
“I’m extremely proud of how hard Jahlissa worked in order to reach her goals,” said Nancy Latimer, Ph.D., RRT, who is department chair for both the A.S. degree and the new Bachelor of Science degree in Cardiopulmonary Sciences that launches this fall. “Jahlissa displays all of the qualities of an excellent respiratory therapist: compassion, critical thinking and communication skills. She is an amazing young lady.”
Powell credits the confidence-building support of her professors Charmaine Gomez, Lisa Nowicki, Stephanie Parlamento and Latimer.
“When I first started, I was shy and closed in,” Powell said. “At clinical sites, I would hold back and not give my suggestions because I felt I was just a student. Dr. Latimer made me feel that my opinion matters. She told me ‘speak up—you never know, it might help someone.’ So I did, and people liked that about me. Dr. Latimer saw a lot in me, and I thank her so much for that. All my professors made me feel so comfortable with everything, and each taught in a unique way that really helped me. I loved the whole experience of the program, from my first day to my very last.”
While Powell plans to continue her education, right now she’s focused on her new career at Jupiter Medical Center.
“Since I’m a new graduate, I just want to learn as much as I possibly can—from neonatal to pediatrics to adult care—so I’m prepared for any type of patient. I want to be as competent a respiratory therapist as I can be,” Powell said.
She’s entering the field at a critical time for RRTs as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
“As cardiopulmonary specialists, we’re the ones who closely monitor the patients who are either on ventilators or getting oxygen or breathing treatments, and we communicate with the doctors on how the patients are doing,” Powell continued. “All I’ve been wanting to do my whole life is to help people. I feel like I graduated at the right moment.”
Serving 49,000 students annually, Palm Beach State College is the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County, providing bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, professional certificates, career training and lifelong learning. Established in 1933 as Florida’s first public community college, Palm Beach State offers more than 130 programs of study at locations in Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves.
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