This year has been tough for respiratory therapists as they have been thrust into the spotlight during COVID-19, fighting on the frontlines alongside their healthcare colleagues, showing true dedication through this pandemic. And so, in honor of this year’s Respiratory Care Week, we celebrate the profession by spreading awareness in respiratory health, and by letting the community know how vital RTs are to patient health. We’ve asked ambassador Samantha Wereszczak, RRT, PA-S, registered respiratory therapist, and now physician assistant student, to shed some light on what it takes to be an RT – the education, the commitment, the highlights, challenges and overall day in the life of.
WHY DID YOU GO INTO RESPIRATORY CARE?
I had an overwhelming urge to go into healthcare, I was always drawn to medicine, but never had an exposure to it. I found out about the Respirator Therapy profession after doing more research about healthcare fields and felt that the role fit me. I liked the idea of being directly at the patient’s bedside, managing ventilators, administering respiratory medications & working closely with other healthcare professions. I also liked the idea of being somewhat of an expert in the cardiopulmonary system!
CAN YOU SHED SOME LIGHT ON THE SPECIALIZED CARE RTs GIVE?
Respiratory Therapists can work in many different settings: Hospital, ICU, Pulmonary Rehab, PFTs, Long-Term Care Facilities, Home Care, Air Transport, you name it! I mainly have experience working in the Medical ICU at a Level I Trauma Center & the role I had there was to manage the patients’ respiratory status, manage and adjust the ventilator, I oversaw the patient's airway, administered respiratory medications, responded to Code Blue & Airway Emergencies, and more!
WHAT SCHOOLING NEEDED TO BE DONE FOR THIS?
I personally received a 4-year bachelor degree in Respiratory Care (2 years of prerequisites & general education requirements, 2 years of specialized respiratory courses & clinical rotations). But, you can also receive your Associates degree in respiratory care and work as a respiratory therapist too! The profession is trying to move toward all baccalaureate, so some employers may ask you to achieve your bachelors at some point in your career.
WHAT DOES A RESPIRATORY THERAPIST DO?
A Respiratory Therapist is an expert on the cardiopulmonary system, we work to manage the many disease processes that are tied into that system. We also work to manage acute respiratory processes like intubation, ventilator management, and acute exacerbations of respiratory diseases. We also work do maintain patients’ cardiopulmonary health in rehab facilities, long-term care facilities & at patients’ homes. To do this, we administer respiratory medications, manage respiratory equipment (BiPAPs, Ventilators, etc.), manage a patient's airway in emergent situations, and work collaboratively with other professions to deliver optimal care.
WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF WORKING AS A RT?
Some of the highlights of working as a Respiratory Therapist are working in a team setting (with other RTs and PAs, NPs, RNs, MDs, DOs, etc.), learning something new every shift, and being able to help your patients in the time they need you the most and being able to stay with them and care for them at every stage in their recovery until discharge. Overall, the profession gave me that adrenaline rush & made me understand healthcare more deeply by being a part of such a valued profession.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGING THINGS ABOUT WORKING AS A RT?
Working in the Medical ICU during the peak of the pandemic was the hardest thing I have ever been through. When something like this happens, RTs are frontline, 100%. Though this was challenging emotionally, physically & mentally I wouldn't have changed being there for those patients. It has and will make me a better provider in the future.
WHAT IS THE TEAM DYNAMIC LIKE IN THE ICU?
Working in the ICU, you work with so closely with so many different healthcare professions. You have to! When your patients are sick, their respiratory status can directly affect the patients’ other organ systems and overall status. RTs are a vital part of the ICU team, as are the RNs, PAs and MDs, CNAs & everyone in between. This job gave me my first real experience in working collaboratively. Watching to see how this type of teamwork directly & positively affected our patients was such an inspiring and beautiful part of medicine that I never had been a part of before.
HOW DID BEING AN RT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF YOUR PATIENTS?
Respiratory Therapists are there at a patients sickest, scariest time. We are there when a patient is on the brink of death, and being a part of the team to save that patient is a beautiful thing. What is even more rewarding is helping patients to recovery through therapies, medication and overall respiratory care. We can aide in giving patients their lives back that were almost taken from them. We get them back on their feet, we help them breath again or we help them adjust to their new life with a respiratory disease. RTs are there in each step of the process directly making a difference every day.
WALK US THROUGH A TYPICAL DAY AS AN RT…
I worked night shift so:
- 6:30pm: I would get to the hospital and get sign out.
- 7:00pm: Then I would start first rounds - I see every patient I am responsible for and perform any therapies, administer medication, make vent setting changes based off their status.
- 8:00pm: In between all this I am also responsible for attending any emergencies that are called for with my patients (which happens frequently because we’re in the ICU), or throughout the hospital (Airway Codes, Code Blue).
- 10:30pm: I have rounds with the doctors and nurses to go over each patients status and talk about any changes in therapies.
- 11:00pm: I would have my second rounds - see all my patients again, perform designated therapies, make any therapy or vent changes that were just discussed. I would also put CPAPs and BiPAPs on for sleeping hours.
- 2:00am: We round again as a team to talk about each patient's status, for any newly admitted patients, we discuss his/her respiratory status and change care plans as the patient’s status changes.
- 3:00am: We start third rounds and see all our patients again. Once again, keeping an ear out for any emergencies throughout the hospital, any acute changes with our patients, as well as traveling with our patients for any scans.
- 6:30am: We give sign-out to day shift, telling them all that we did, any changes from yesterday, fill them in on new patients & then we go to sleep and do it all again!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE INTERESTED IN BECOMING AN RT?
Being a Respiratory Therapist is a very rewarding career. There are so many settings you can work in and so many patients you can help in many ways. If working in a team setting, being very hands-on with your patients, and if the cardiopulmonary system interests you then go for it! Being an RT also gave me the perfect exposure to be able to go back to school to become a PA.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO THEN GO INTO PA SCHOOL?
Working so closely with Physician Assistants in the Medical ICU inspired me 100%. I saw how knowledgeable each PA was, what they could do, and saw them fit so perfectly into the healthcare team. It made me think that with my background as an RT and the future knowledge I'd gain as a PA, I would be able to help my patients outside of just the cardiopulmonary system, and even more on a larger scale. It has always been about the patients and my thirst to learn more, know more and then in turn, help my patients more.
WHERE ARE YOU NOW IN YOUR PA SCHOOL JOURNEY?
I am currently in my first semester of my first year of Physician Assistant school! I am currently taking many important foundational courses: Anatomy with Cadaver Lab, Pathophysiology & Physiology, Clinical Medicine, Physical Diagnosis Lab & more!
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES? THE HIGHLIGHTS?
I would say the biggest challenge was getting into PA school. The profession has become more popular over the years, with spots available for only a fraction of its applicants. Being an untraditional applicant, the process felt daunting, but then joining the Instagram community had helped me through that journey immensely. Now being a PA student the biggest challenge has been adjusting to my new lifestyle as a full-time student!
WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO BY BECOMING A PA?
I am most looking forward to getting back to being a healthcare professional, now provider, and making that impact on my patients that I once did as an RT, but now on a different scale!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE INTERESTED IN BECOMING AN PA?
Do not give up! The process of applying to PA school has become increasingly more difficult as the profession has started to grow. But, if this is what you want do not give up! I had to apply two cycles before I received an acceptance, and I was ready to apply a third time if need be! Persevere. A rejection does not mean you will not be a good PA, it just means timing is not right, or the school is not right or whatever it may be. If this is something you want, keep fighting for it!
For more information, be sure to visit Samantha HERE>>>
Or for more information about RESPIRATORY CARE WEEK, visit the American Association for Respiratory Care.