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Professor receives “ultimate compliment” from former respiratory therapy students

Thursday, March 09, 2023 12:00 AM

Richard Zahodnic
Richard Zahodnic

Former respiratory therapy students of Professor Richard Zahodnic have his personal cell phone number and are not shy about contacting him after they graduate. Not only is he happy to hear from them, but it is also a high point of his day.

“I frequently will get text messages about a situation they have with a patient they are caring for,” said Zahodnic. “That is the ultimate compliment anyone could give.”

After earning his associate degree in respiratory therapy from Macomb, Zahodnic went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in business and a Ph.D., all from Wayne State University. He has worked as a staff therapist, supervisor and educational coordinator in respiratory therapy departments, financial analyst for a hospital, and as a clinical consultant and salesperson for a medical manufacturer. He joined Macomb’s respiratory therapy faculty on a full-time basis in 2004, after substituting for his former teachers for many years before.

“I fell in love with it.”

“My sister was a nurse and was the one who suggested I look at becoming a respiratory therapist,” related Zahodnic of his introduction to the field. “I shadowed a therapist for a few hours and fell in love with it.”

During his two years as a student in the program, Zahodnic competed in the annual Sputum Bowl. A quiz bowl-like contest, the Sputum Bowl is held at the state and national levels. Given questions about respiratory therapy, teams of college students compete against each other to score the most correct answers. Zahodnic and his teammates won the state championship, a tradition upheld by many of Macomb’s subsequent teams.

“We had a 12-year streak of representing Michigan at the nationals that was snapped (due to Covid) in 2019,” said Zahodnic, whose involvement in the Sputum Bowl continues as a primary moderator at the state level. “Our students competed last year and finished second in a tight match.”

“We have very smart students.”

There is no secret to Macomb’s Sputum Bowl record, according to Zahodnic, it is the outcome of the dedication brought to it by those who participate.

“Part of it is the passion I have for that competition,” he said, “and part of it is that we have very smart students.”

Zahodnic and his wife of 40 years, Lorrie, met at Saratoga Hospital, where they both worked. Lorrie was a nurse’s aide preparing to apply for Wayne State’s School of Nursing and Zahodnic was an on-the-job trainee preparing to apply for Macomb’s Respiratory Therapy program. The couple have two grown children and were once parents to two rescued greyhounds. Befitting a life that has revolved around the care of others, Zahodnic derives the greatest satisfaction from teaching his students how to do the same.

“There’s that moment where a difficult concept finally clicks with a student,” said Zahodnic. “Nothing is more rewarding.”