Byrd, assistant professor and director of the Respiratory Care program at AC, has spent portions of the past two summers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, volunteering her expertise at a combination hospital-medical college.
“It’s been an honor to be involved with that. We’ve made strides in recent years, especially reducing the infant mortality rate,” said Byrd, whose service is part of a team effort set up by Wax and Gold Inc., a non-profit humanitarian organization.
“I’ve had several students tell me they would like to have similar experiences, to share what they know in a place like Ethiopia.
“That excites me,” she said. “We ask all our students to perform at least four hours of medical community services before they graduate. I want them to be better people than when they came through my doors on the very first day.”
Byrd knows just how students feel when they pass through her doors at AC – she’s been there, done that.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology from West Texas A&M University, Byrd enrolled in AC’s Respiratory Care program and began her quest to learn about treating chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system.
“I grew up with asthma and had been in the hospital several times with pneumonia,” she said. “When I realized that the person who was treating me was a respiratory therapist, I thought, ‘wow, I can do that.’”
Byrd earned her A.A.S. degree in respiratory care at AC in 1997. She then garnered extensive experience, particularly in neonatal respiratory therapy, in Amarillo’s largest hospitals. She returned to AC to join the faculty in 2008.
A lifelong learner, Byrd, while continuing to teach, completed a master’s degree in respiratory care education at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
“My strategy as an educator is to never stop learning,” she said. “That’s why I love to see the reaction of students when they actually put all the theory and practice together and truly grasp what their importance is in this career.
“Some people learn better by writing, some by hearing or doing, and others are combined learners. I try to incorporate a little bit of all that in my lessons so that everyone in the class can benefit.”
Byrd’s approach has proven beneficial for both her students and the program.
AC recently received prestigious recognition from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, which commends only those programs in which at least 90 percent of graduates successfully obtain credentials – through examination – to become Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT).
“We are affordable, very accessible, and we want all of our current students and future students to know this is something that they can do,” Byrd said. “Anyone can become a medical professional at Amarillo College.”
Byrd did, and in 2010 she was named Educator of the Year for the Northwest Region by the Texas Society for Respiratory Care, which also named her the region’s Neonatal Practitioner of the Year in 2006.
“In our field, which is allied health services, I feel like a great educator is someone who can take the students and show them exactly how it needs to be done, not just from something that they have read in the textbook, but something that they have experienced and performed themselves,” she said.