They Each Went to College to Become Respiratory Therapists. They Left with Degrees, Careers and an Enduring Friendship
When Rebekah Perkins decided to pursue her Associate of Science degree in Respiratory Care in 2007, she never imagined she would leave school less than two years later with one of the most enduring, essential friendships of her life.
Neither did Courtnie Crawford. But when the two Arizona women met in class at Apollo College (which several years later became Carrington College) in Phoenix, they developed a fast friendship—one that has thrived for 14 years.
“We had so much in common that I guess a great friendship was inevitable,” says Rebekah. “Back when we started school, we were both 24 years old and married. I already had three kids, and Courtnie had just had her first. We were both figuring out how to juggle jobs and school while raising young families. It wasn’t always easy, and I think we gravitated to each other because we both understood the balancing act and the level of commitment it took to make it all work.”
Rebekah and Courtnie met in the third semester of the Respiratory Care program, when Courtnie returned to school after taking a brief break to have her baby.
“I was already in a study group with four girls who studied really well together, but Courtnie showed up and fit right in,” Rebekah recalls. “When we got together for study groups, we both often brought our kids. Sometimes it was crazy, but somehow it all worked.”
In addition to studying for their program, Rebekah and Courtnie were also part of an Arizona state championship team that competed in the National Sputum Bowl, an American Association for Respiratory Care educational competition that Rebekah describes as “sort of a respiratory Jeopardy.”
After graduating and passing their National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC) credentialing exams, Courtnie and Rebekah each worked for years as registered Respiratory Therapists at skilled nursing facilities and Phoenix-area hospitals before being hired at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale—Courtie in 2015 and Rebekah one year later. Both are now Vascular Access Specialists, a specialty which includes the placement and care of peripherally inserted central catheters. They typically work three 12-hour shifts per week, and often find themselves assigned to the same shift.
“I love it when I check my schedule and see that Rebekah and I will be working together,” says Courtnie. “We always have a great time, and we know each other’s working style and rhythm so well that we’re very effective as a team.”
They’re also able to provide each other with moral support when it’s needed. During the past year of pandemic pressure, that support has been needed often.
“I love my job, but it’s been a rough year for most of us working in health care,” Courtnie says. “Being healers and helpers is a privilege, and it can also be demanding and draining. Rebekah and I both know what it feels like to be concerned for patients and to face the reality that no matter what we do for them, there are times when it’s not enough. And between us, Rebekah and I also have seven kids between the ages of nine and 17, so our lives away from the hospital can also be very full and demanding.”
Courtnie and Rebekah say they’ve seen each other at their best and worst, and they always have each other’s backs.
“My youngest daughter has some health challenges, and Courtnie understands all the fear and anxiety I’ve had over the past year about exposing my daughter to anything,” Rebekah explains. “When my ex-husband and I made the decision that our four kids would live with him last summer because of the covid risk factors associated with my job, Courtnie understood how tough that decision was for me—and why it was the right decision under the circumstances. Her support meant the world to me.”
Rebekah says that while family and friends do their best to be empathetic and encouraging, they can’t fully appreciate what it’s really like to be on the front line of health care—especially now.
“Unless you’re living it, day in and day out, you can’t fully understand the pressure and stress,” she explains. “But Courtnie does. She gets it—and she gets me. When I have one of those days where I’m feeling overwhelmed, she can relate because she’s been there. I think that connection—and the support we’ve been able to give each other—has helped keep both of us grounded over the past year.”
Courtnie and Rebekah agree that working together over the past five years has been an unexpected gift.
“If someone had told us when we met that we’d become such good friends—and that we’d be working together 14 years later—I don’t think either of us would have believed it,” says Courtnie. “There are times when we’re at work and I remember all those times we studied for exams together, wondering if we’d pass. We’ve come a long way.”