Each year, Respiratory Therapists (RT) are celebrated during Respiratory Care Week, happening this year from October 25th to October 31st. RT’s play a vital role in the lives of various patient populations, and most notably this year, providing hands-on care for patients whose breathing has been compromised by the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 Virus) pandemic.
Ruthie Marker MSRC, RRT, Manager of Clinical Affairs at Belluscura, has worked as a respiratory therapist for over ten years in various clinical settings and locations and, most recently, as manager of clinical affairs at Belluscura. We interviewed Ruthie recently to get her thoughts and feedback regarding her clinical and non-clinical medical device careers.
Q: What was your first job as a respiratory therapist?
A: In my last year of undergraduate coursework I applied to University Medical Center at Brackenridge (UMBC) in Austin, TX as a respiratory care assistant. In that role, I helped with things such as disinfecting equipment and maintaining supplies stocked throughout the hospital. That summer, I completed two internships at UMCB in the Level I Trauma Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I enjoyed my internships so much that after receiving my degree and passing the required board exams, I started my respiratory career at UMCB and called it home fore the next four years.
Q: What did you like most at UMCB?
A: What I liked the most about UMCB was working closely with the group of pulmonologists. The group consisted of about six highly experienced pulmonologists. What I enjoyed the most was assisting with bedside tracheostomies. A procedure that once required the patient to go to the operating room can now be performed in a patients’ room which conserves cost, time, and most importantly, reduces infection risks.
Q: What was the most important lesson you learned working there?
A: The most important lesson I learned at UMCB was that life is very short. Trauma happens when you least expect it and I saw a lot of it there. It taught me to be thankful for every moment I have on this earth. I attribute much of who I am today as a respiratory therapist to the lessons learned while working with such amazing clinicians and the hands on experience I gained.
Q: After Brackenridge, what did you do next?
A: The next two years were very fluid due to relocations, and in 2013 I started working at the Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, TX, specifically the Medical ICU. In 2016, I began working in Parklands Level III Neonatal ICU (NICU). I fell in love with the NICU and learned so much, I was part of a resuscitation team that attended all high risk and preterm deliveries.
Q: What was the most challenging and rewarding part of working at Parkland?
A: The NICU has by far been the most challenging, yet most rewarding area I have had the pleasure of working in. The resilience of these tiny humans is unbelievable! I have cared for babies that weigh less than a pound, 370 grams to be exact! With the amazing multidisciplinary team at Parkland NICU and the progressive treatment approaches, these babies thrive!
Q: As an RT, have you worked with COVID-19 patients?
A: Working in the NICU was a relatively ‘safe’ place to work since many of our patient interactions were with babies. While we did risk exposing ourselves in various other areas of the hospital, it remained my haven.
When I left Parkland, I took a crisis RT position in Baltimore, MD. The hospital I worked at in Baltimore was extremely understaffed and not equipped to handle the surge of patients now making their way to hospitals for treatment. I wanted to challenge myself, seeing if my skills for treating adult patients were still there. The transition was a bit bumpy, but I got back in the swing of things fast.
Q: What did you find was the most difficult part of dealing with patients during this pandemic?
A: As a respiratory therapist, treating both adult and preterm infants, I was used to treating patients with various chronic and acute conditions. COVID-19 is something no one was prepared for and forced us to adapt quickly. In the beginning, there were many unknowns, for example how best to manage patients requiring respiratory support. I’ll admit I cried the first week I was there, feeling an overwhelming amount of emotions and experiencing the physical toll it took on me.
It was difficult to feel as if I was making a difference in patients’ lives and still see patients dying. My time in Baltimore was short, I applaud all my fellow RT heroes that are showing up, day after day, overcoming physical, emotional, and mental stress!
Q: When and why did you decide to leave the clinical practice of respiratory therapy and join a medical device company?
A: After graduating with my masters in December 2019, I wanted to explore the potential of my profession outside of clinical practice. As RTs, we depend on the technology developed by respiratory care and medical device companies to care for our patients, both in the acute care setting as well as outpatient care. I wanted to immerse myself in the industry responsible for helping make patients’ quality of lives better, currently through the development of a portable oxygen concentrator, and continue my passion for being a patient advocate.
I think it is essential for RTs to be at the heart of any products or therapy that will improve the lives of patients. After all, we help patients breathe easier! I still have a close relationship with many practicing RTs, and I read more clinical trials and articles now than ever before. This helps me stay current with treatment practices and enables me to continue growing my knowledge of patient care.
Q: As a respiratory therapist yourself, why is Respiratory Care Week important to you?
A: Have I mentioned one of the perks of Respiratory Care Week is all the delicious treats?! Ok, all kidding aside, the most important thing for me is for the world to know who we are. Breathing is a synonym for respiratory, and in my opinion, should be synonymous with a respiratory therapist. We are an integral part of patients’ lives, not only in the hospital setting but also in outpatient care, sleep medicine, asthma clinics, pulmonary rehabilitation centers, and soon will be involved in treating COVID-19‘long haulers.’
As healthcare continues to evolve rapidly, so will the various roles held by respiratory therapists. This Respiratory Care Week be sure to show your appreciation for the respiratory therapists in your community! They do so much behind the scenes with doctors and nurses and deserve recognition for what they do.
Ruthie has been a respiratory therapist for over ten years. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. She started her career working in a Level I Trauma center in Austin, TX, and most recently spent the last five years working at Parklands MICU and Level III NICU. Currently, she is the Manager of Clinical Affairs at Belluscura plc, a medical device company focused on developing innovative oxygen enrichment technologies designed to create improved health and economic outcomes for patients, healthcare providers, and insurance organizations.