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What Exactly is Respiratory Therapy?

Respiratory therapy involves caring for patients with chronic breathing problems and lung issues. Factors that cause respiratory problems such as lung cancer, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often treated by respiratory therapy interventions. The American Thoracic Society states that the most common diseases needing respiratory therapy include severe asthma, COPD, interstitial or fibrotic lung diseases, pneumonia, lung cancer, lung infections, and bronchiolitis.

Respiratory therapy can also help improve the breathing of premature babies. According to the March of Dimes, 1 in 10 babies born in the U.S. is born prematurely. Many of these premature babies will need assistance breathing well into the first months of life, and some will require respiratory therapy even after they leave the intensive care unit and go home.

Who performs Respiratory Therapy?

A respiratory therapist (RT) specializes in treating patients who require respiratory therapy. They work as part of a team to help diagnose lung and breathing problems and help people improve their respiratory health and day-to-day lung function. RTs’ must have a broad knowledge of how the body works, specifically the lungs, and are part of a medical team that diagnoses and treats patients.

Where do Respiratory Therapist Work?

They work in a variety of settings. They commonly work in hospital settings, including the emergency room, the intensive care unit, and the newborn or pediatric intensive care unit. Respiratory Therapists work with patients of all ages, ranging from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to elderly patients with advanced heart and lung issues.

Outside of the hospital setting, respiratory therapists also work in pulmonary rehabilitation clinics and manage pulmonary rehabilitation centers. With the evolving pandemic and the rise in patients recovering from the Coronavirus, they may find themselves working in specialized clinics to treat Covid-19 ‘long haulers’. An RT can also work in doctors’ offices, sleep disorder clinics, and long-term care facilities. Careers in teaching, patient education, and roles within the medical devices industry are also new areas where respiratory therapists work.

What duties do Respiratory Therapist Perform?

Along with having extensive knowledge of the cardiopulmonary system, respiratory therapists must be experts in the machines and devices used to administer respiratory care treatments. This encompasses a variety of responsibilities.

Some responsibilities of respiratory therapists include:
  • Managing life support mechanical ventilation systems
  • Administering aerosol breathing treatments
  • Monitoring equipment related to cardiopulmonary therapy
  • Analyzing blood samples to determine levels of oxygen and other gases
  • Evaluating patients for the need for supplemental oxygen

Takeaway

During the last week of October, Respiratory Therapists are celebrated and acknowledged for their dedication to patient care, promoting respiratory health, and being a vital part of the healthcare community.

Respiratory Therapist Spotlight: Ruthie Marker MSRC, RRT

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.

respiratory therapist

Ruthie Marker MSRC, RRT, Manager of Clinical Affairs at Belluscura, plc

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.’

Takeaway

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.

Respiratory Care Week Celebrates Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory Care Week is the last full week of October and it is designated to honor and recognize Respiratory Therapists. You may have heard the term “Respiratory Therapist” before, but do you know what Respiratory Therapists actually do?

Respiratory Therapists (RT) are certified medical professionals who specialize in providing healthcare for your lungs. There are different types of respiratory therapists, including emergency, pediatric, adult and geriatric, with RTs specializing in one or more areas.

How does one become an RT? How do you know if you need an RT? What do you look for in an RT? Read more: https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-respiratory-therapist