SDSU respiratory therapist instructor Abby Wortman earns honor

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BROOKINGS — Citing her dedication and commitment to patients, respiratory therapist Abby Wortman has been honored with a national award by Monument Health.

Wortman, of Rapid City, holds dual roles as an instructor in the respiratory care program at South Dakota State University and a respiratory therapist at the Rapid City hospital. After receiving multiple nominations on Wortman’s behalf, Angie Haugen, director of respiratory care at Monument, presented Wortman with the PHIL Award at a departmental meeting in late October during respiratory care week.

The PHIL (Pulmonary Health and Illness of the Lung) Award was established in 2006 in honor of Philip Lamka, who died from lung disease. It is overseen by the Family and Caregiver Education and Support Foundation, which advocates for those with pulmonary illness. This is the second year that Monument has presented the award.

Wortman has been a respiratory therapist since 2009, which is also when she joined Monument. She added her instructional duties in SDSU’s Department of Allied and Population Health in 2017.

Haugen told the gathering of some 45 other respiratory therapists that the award recipient stabilizes critically ill patients, “responding to requests for care and always being professional and kind. … Every interaction is met with genuine concern for the patient. Patients appreciated her calm and kind demeanor and her infectious smile.”

Wortman, who didn’t know she was receiving the award before the presentation, said, “It’s important to see the people you’re caring for as an individual, not just a patient or a room number. I work primarily in ICU, so often the patient isn’t able to communicate, but family members are. I try to think, if that was me or my family, what would they want to know.”

Passing attitude on to students

She hopes that value is communicated to her students.

“You can act out the skill set, but your caring persona is super important. Are you just coming in to record numbers, or do you have an interest in the patient? I was a patient in June in the hospital, getting to see a few different caregivers and realizing how important that is,” said Wortman, who is originally of Hankinson, North Dakota.

She noted that a benefit of her dual role with SDSU and Monument is that many of her students go on to become colleagues.

Wortman estimates that 70% of the Monument respiratory therapists are graduates of the program, which originated with Dakota State University and transitioned to SDSU in 2020.

SDSU program offers two options

The program offers an associate track, which starts each May, and a bachelor’s track, which can be obtained completely online and done while working as a registered respiratory therapy practitioner.

The program can accept up to eight students at the Rapid City campus at Monument Health as well as Brookings, Madison and Huron and 16 at the Sioux Falls campus at both Avera and Sanford hospitals. There is 100% job placement rate for both sites.

During the first week of November, Wortman became the first person from the SDSU program or Monument Health to present information at the American Association for Respiratory Care Conference in Nashville. She was chosen to present research on appropriate medication utilization in hospitalized patients, which was conducted with the assistance of some of her students.