Spotlight On A CCSH Credential Holder
Tamara Kaye Sellman, RPSGT, CCSH
Sleep Lab Technologist, Harrison HealthPartners
Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine, Poulsbo, WA
Bainbridge Island, WA
I'm a relative newcomer to sleep, earning my RPSGT credential in August 2013, one month after taking my first job as a sleep technologist, and only two months after completing my CAAHEP program (September 2012 through May 2013) and receiving my certification.
I entered the field after spending my 20s, 30s and 40s working in publishing; I've been a writer my whole life. Professionally, I've edited, published, designed, coached and worked with literary communities in a number of ways. I hold an Associates Degree in communications and a Bachelors Degree in journalism.
Of all the reasons behind this career switch in midlife, key among them is the fact I am also a sleep health patient. Seven years ago, I had inexplicable and irresistible fatigue, my snoring had worsened, and I was face planting into my laptop during live teleconferences.
At my sleep study, I didn't have to split, as my AHI was low, but my high RDI later confirmed suspicions of upper airway resistance caused by narrow airways and allergies. I also passed my MSLT, ruling out narcolepsy formally, though idiopathic hypersomnia remained an open question until I treated the UARS.
I was an early adopter of the oral device, fitted by my dentist, which I use with 100 percent compliance. My severe snoring stopped. My postnasal drip disappeared, thanks to that slight additional opening in my airway, allowing me to clear my nasal passages normally. I swapped multiple drugs for a single nasal steroid as needed, ending years of sinus infections, laryngitis and bronchitis.
Like a CPAP devotee, I felt more energized than ever! I became a walking, talking evangelist for sleep health even before I became an RPSGT.
At the same time, my journalist training prompted me to learn everything I could about sleep. What I found in books and online was useful, but I discovered that the most legitimate and reliable resources were, ultimately, out of the reach of "average" people.
The general population is either unable to interpret medicalese or they can't access real studies which are, by and large, trapped behind a payment barrier. And less-than-stellar sources – some of them offering outright "snake oil" in their advice – also supplant some of the better websites because of all the curative promises they make.
When I started the sleep technology program in 2012, my key goal was to not only find work in a sleep lab, where I could interact with patients and doctors, but to also write about sleep health for the general population. Credentials can help to land better assignments and, perhaps, better pay for me as a writer.
When I saw the Clinical Sleep Educator (CSE) certificate program offered at the Louisville BRPT conference in September 2013, I couldn't have been more thrilled. Based on the success of previous diabetes and asthma educator programs, the new CSE program seemed built for people just like me: sleep techs with communications skills and passion built on personal motivation.
Inspired, I began work on a new website after returning from Louisville. It took a year to design, write and launch. In the meantime, I wanted to take the next step so I studied for the Certification In Clinical Sleep Health (CCSH) credential exam and took the test on the last day of the exam window in May of 2014. I passed just weeks before launching SleepyHeadCENTRAL.com.
Its subtitle, "Sleep Health Information Clearinghouse," says it all. I call myself the curator because that's what the work feels like: I'm conducting a tour through a huge museum housing diverse ideas about sleep health. I'm adding to the collection all the time.
While I don't get paid for this work yet, in the world of communications and media, it's a pretty substantial calling card I can put out into the digital wilderness. Past experience tells me there are paying jobs that come from this type of work. And as imperfect as the website is (let's face it, all websites are "works in progress"), it's already connected me with some amazing leaders in sleep health, technology, public education and health policy.
I've also had the privilege and opportunity to help ordinary people navigate their sleep health issues. Making the site a friendly, interactive place with fun elements like giveaways, polls, links to Pinterest, etc. means I can reach them—the very same people you and I encounter every day in the lab—"where they are." What I learn in the lab benefits what I learn as a curator, and vice versa.
One thing I've learned over 25 years of work in publishing, social networks and media literacy is that when readers say they want information, what they're really asking for is a "story." A good story is a compelling narrative that includes anecdotes, first-person accounts, confessionals, dialogs, monologues, and tales told around the metaphoric fireplace.
People don't always absorb website "information" or "fact sheets." But when you contextualize this information through storytelling – this humanizing element makes it personal. It sticks in one's memory and has emotional power. Stories can serve as strong motivators for those willing to rethink their habits or to make important changes.
And isn't that what we want as patient educators? To inspire, to motivate, to give patients tools for positive change?
As both an RPSGT and a CCSH, and as a sleep health patient, this is exactly what I want, for myself and for many others.