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Graduates of CNM: Working on the Hospital Frontlines of COVID-19

Karina Lujan, a Registered Respiratory Therapist at UNM Hospital, is part of a medical team helping patients who’ve come down with the virus
Graduates of CNM: Working on the Hospital Frontlines of COVID-19
Karina, left, and Leissa Noel, a CNM part-time Respiratory Therapy instructor, prepare to help a pediatric patient with COVID-19 who’s on a ventilator at UNMH.

Apr 28, 2020

This past Saturday was nerve racking for Karina Lujan, a CNM graduate now working as a registered respiratory therapist at UNM Hospital. It was the first time she had to put on full personal protective gear— a face mask, face shield, hair covering, and gown—and enter a special room with someone sick from COVID-19. To make things even more stressful, her patient was a toddler who was so sick they’d gone into respiratory failure and had to be put on a ventilator for life support.

But nerves didn’t stop Karina. She and her mentor, Leissa Noel, who’s also a part-time Respiratory Therapy instructor at CNM, proudly went into the room and did their job to ensure the ventilator was working properly and the patient had everything they needed to support recovery.

“It was extremely rewarding to be able to do my job and help. The experience also backed up all the reasons I wanted to become a respiratory therapist in the first place,” Karina says. 

Karina has been at UNMH since January of this year. Before that she worked at Lovelace. She studied Respiratory Therapy at CNM (she graduated in 2016) because the job not only put her in a position to save lives, but also helped her see a patient’s full medical journey. She loves helping patients in the hospital, but she loves watching them walk out of the hospital healthy just as much. 

At UNM she’s been a mobile RT and flown around the state to help patients in rural areas. She now works in the hospital’s pediatrics unit—in both the regular and intensive care units (ICU). Before COVID-19, most of her patients were being treated for illnesses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)/bronchiolitis. 

“One good thing we’ve seen is that there are fewer pediatric patients with these more common illnesses because everyone is better about washing their hands and kids are not spending as much time together,” she says.

As an RT, Karina and her colleagues are in charge of the ventilators that often save patients’ lives. She also monitors the progress of patients, consults on what to do if a patient gets worse, and educates parents about how to help their child stay healthy after they leave the hospital. 

Before COVID-19, Karina says RTs were often seen as one of the unsung heroes of the medical field. No one knew what they did, but their jobs were critical. Now, however, she’s proud that RTs are getting more recognition.  

"We’re part of that team that works to ensure patients can walk out of our facility healthy,” she says. 

For anyone considering respiratory therapy as a career field, Karina says go for it. She loved her time at CNM and feels like she got a high quality education that allowed her to enter the field and immediately make a difference.

“CNM was amazing. My instructors were so supportive and some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. I’m so happy I went through the program,” she says.  

Learn more about CNM’s Respiratory Therapy program.