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Ten things to know about TCC’s Respiratory Therapy program

Tidewater Community College is on the front lines of training today’s respiratory therapists. TCC students learn in a state-of-the-art high-fidelity simulation laboratory enabling them to develop problem-solving skills with immediate feedback from faculty. Here are ten reasons why this may be the career for you.

  1. Tidewater Community College’s Respiratory Therapy program is a recipient of the 2021 Registered Respiratory Therapy Distinguished Credentialing Success Award. TCC’s program is one of eight in the nation to receive this distinction from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) for eight consecutive years.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of TCC’s graduates in Respiratory Therapy and other health care fields. The college continues to provide critical training for front line health care workers. 
  3. The pass rate for students taking the Respiratory Therapy credentialing exam to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) is 100%.
  4. Most TCC graduates have jobs before graduating with some even receiving lucrative sign-on bonuses.
  5. The Respiratory Therapy program is offered at TCC’s Regional Health Professions building on the Virginia Beach Campus. The state-of-the-art facility offers a high-fidelity simulation laboratory that allows faculty to provide students with the most authentic educational experience. 
  6. The college even has its own ventilators to train students on how to provide lifesaving support when needed.
  7. TCC offers the only Respiratory Therapy associate degree program in Hampton Roads.
  8. The college also partners with all major area health care providers to offer clinical rotations for students. Because of this exposure, students work alongside respiratory care practitioners developing health care plans and evaluating therapies using critical thinking. They see firsthand the real-world benefits of working as a team to solve life-threatening clinical problems daily.
  9. The main skills students learn are therapies to enhance ventilation and oxygenation of the body. Therapists can work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and diagnostic laboratories.
  10. Prospective students can learn more about the program at or by attending an open house, which is held on the third Thursday of each month (except December) at 3 p.m. in the Regional Health Professions building on the Virginia Beach Campus. Email Program Director Denise Bieszczad at for more information.

Join TCC in honoring our front-line health care workers during Respiratory Care Week, Oct. 24-30. For more than 18 months, respiratory therapists have been on the front lines more than usual. COVID-19 has forced respiratory therapists into new territory like never before. So many have worked countless hours away from their loved ones, risked their personal health and the health of their families, traveled across the United States to assist in COVID-19 surge cities, and so much more. 

Respiratory therapy grad on the frontlines

“Bring it on!”

Taylor Moneypenny never imagined starting her career as a respiratory therapist during a pandemic caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system.

But after a circuitous route, the Chesapeake resident, who graduated from Tidewater Community College with an Associate of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy in May 2020, will start her job at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) confident and prepared.

“I signed up to do this, and I’m ready,” said the honors graduate.

Taylor Moneypenny explains how a pig lung is similar to a human lung to Gov. Ralph Northam during his visit to the Regional Health Professions Center in February.

Respiratory therapists evaluate and monitor the heart and lung functions of patients, helping them breathe better. They often treat premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed, teens struggling with asthma or elderly patients battling lung diseases.

But right now, their primary focus is on helping people recover after contacting COVID-19.

It’s not a field that Moneypenny, a 2014 graduate of Hickory High, initially considered. She prepared for a career in therapeutic recreation by working toward a bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University when a couple of factors converged.

An internship at Norfolk General gave her a window into respiratory therapy, as did watching her grandmother, diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, receive treatment from a respiratory therapist who graduated from TCC.

“I decided to pursue a career in respiratory therapy after seeing how much respiratory therapists impact their patients’ lives and wellbeing,” said Moneypenny, 23, who is also president of the college’s respiratory therapy club.

The classes were a grind in the competitive program, but a tireless work ethic and support of peers helped her balance the heavy load. She credits program head Denise Bieszczad with making the content relatable. The program boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the credentialing exam.

“When I take practice tests, I’m so well prepared,” Moneypenny said. “Without Denise, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Clinical rotations at Riverside Regional, CHKD, Sentara Virginia Beach General, Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital, Sentara Leigh and Sentara Norfolk General provided real-world experience. Moneypenny spent this semester working as a student aide at CHKD, and she’ll be ready to start in the field initially in a shadowing role until she can take the national exam.

One day she plans to work toward a master’s, but for now, she looks forward to what she calls the best part of the job. Contributing to a patient turning the corner back toward a healthy life, she said, is gratifying.

“You have to have a heart for helping people,” she said. “It’s not an option to say no; you have to be able to help others. You have to be caring. If you don’t have that attitude, this field is not for you.”

Respiratory Therapy program prepared TCC alum to be on front lines of COVID-19

Walking into a clinical simulation lab at Tidewater Community College, Justin Seemueller never knew what to expect.

The unique possibilities – a child suffering from an asthma attack to a lung cancer patient gasping for breath – ranged from moderate to life-altering.

Justin Seemueller

As a student in the college’s Respiratory Therapy program, he understood that reacting correctly with a camera recording all of his actions did more than affect his grade. “It prepared me for exactly what I’m doing now,” said Seemueller, a respiratory clinical specialist at Norfolk General Hospital, where 14-hour days are commonplace to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Back then, I thought it was a cruel joke – entering a room and having to respond on camera for a simulation we weren’t prepared for,” said Seemueller, who earned his Associate of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy from TCC in 2010. “Actually, that was the best part of the program. Instead of being thrown into the wild west of life-saving situations, I have the muscle memory of knowing what to do.”

“Warriors for health. An essential component for patients. A keystone in the COVID-19 battle,” is how Tom Kallstrom, executive director of the American Association of Respiratory Care, describes respiratory therapists, who are on the front lines alongside physicians fighting COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system and lungs.

Approximately 80 percent of respiratory therapists at Sentara Norfolk graduated from TCC’s nationally accredited program where, almost without exception, all are employed prior to commencement. “TCC puts out the best of the best,” Seemueller said.

Seemueller has an added twist to his role thanks to his engineering aptitude. Collaborating directly with engineers at Old Dominion University, he’s designing a reusable protective mask for healthcare workers. By relying on existing resources, specifically, CPAP masks used to treat sleep apnea, he created design specs for an alternative to the standard N95 masks, which are in short supply nationally.

Seemueller’s engineering aptitude was key in designing an adapter for the masks.

To be effective, masks must include high-level viral filters and be perfectly sealed, both of which can be accomplished by using an adaptor that a 3D printer can spit out. Those are being printed at ODU and distributed to all Sentara facilities and locally to combat a potential shortage.

“We can equip people with perfect type seal masks that are far superior to what they are using currently,” Seemueller said.

The Kellam High graduate didn’t grow up wanting to be part of a medical team. He found the TCC program after earning a bachelor’s in philosophy from Radford University. He considered law school but found himself instead drawn to a profession that blends technical expertise with medical care.

“I like the marriage of the two,” he said.

He touts the passion of program head Denise Bieszczad – who taught his father, Bob, also a respiratory therapist. “She pours her heart and soul into the program and she could not have prepared me any better,” he said.

Simulations, which allow mistakes with Android patients as opposed to real people, helped Seemueller master the clinical rotations he completed at Riverside Regional, Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Chesapeake Regional, Sentara Bayside, Sentara Virginia Beach General and Norfolk General.

“The clinical hours prepare you for what the job is all about,” he said.

Often that means seeing people on the worst day of their lives. “It’s bittersweet sometimes; we’re in a narrow section of the healthcare process,” Seemueller said. “We don’t always know the end result.

“But sometimes you’ll have family members remember you a year or two later and say how helpful you were. When that happens, it means a lot.”

TCC loaning ventilators and donating supplies to help fight COVID-19

From loaning ventilators to donating boxes of supplies, Tidewater Community College is supporting area health professionals in the battle against COVID-19.

TCC’s Respiratory Therapy program loaned 11 ventilators to Sentara Healthcare on March 31. Housed in the Regional Health Professions Center on the Virginia Beach Campus, the ventilators are used in simulation labs that are hands-on classrooms for respiratory therapy students.

“It’s a small part that we can play to make a difference,” said Denise Bieszczad, program head for Respiratory Therapy, which will graduate 14 from the program, all of whom already have jobs in the field.

Bieszczad, who’s been at TCC for nearly four decades, taught many of the respiratory therapists working in Hampton Roads’ major health systems today, who she said, “are in the front lines of fighting COVID-19.” In fact, it was TCC graduate Steve Sibole, director of Patient Care Services at Sentara, who reached out to Bieszczad asking if the college had any ventilators to loan.

“We were happy to do our part,” said Bieszczad, who also offered to loan ventilators to Bon Secours, another of TCC’s regional partners.

Boxes of supplies headed to Sentara Healthcare, one of five major healthcare systems in Hampton Roads receiving donations from TCC.

In addition, on April 1, TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions donated 500 pairs of gloves, 500 procedure masks, 100 surgical shields, 50 poly gowns and 50 isolation gowns to each of the five major health systems in Hampton Roads (Sentara, Bon Secours, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Lake Taylor, Chesapeake Regional).

The supplies were leftover inventory from nurse aide, clinical medical assisting and other workforce instructional programs.

WAVY, WTKR and 13News Now each featured stories about TCC’s efforts.