Respiratory Therapists: Airway Experts   

Respiratory therapists help patients of all ages and in a variety of healthcare settings to breathe, and next week, these medical professionals are taking some time to recognize the impact they have on the community, and in the hospital.

Alexa McMillan, an RT who works in clinical resource education at Royal Inland Hospital (in Kamloops), said the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on how valuable RTs are in our healthcare system. McMillan said RTs are “airway experts,” taking on tasks such as helping patients to go on breathing machines, performing diagnostic tests, or helping people with chronic lung conditions to manage their symptoms.

“One day, you could be working in intensive care. And then the next day, you may be pulled and working in diagnostics,” McMillan said.

“I think our skillset is so unique and diverse that we get to work in all these different areas, whether you’re working with little babies one day, to the next day, you’re working with an elderly person trying to help manage their airways.”

The career diversity is exciting for Karling Bradley, a student RT completing a practicum at RIH. “Within our schooling and our practicum, we’ve gotten to do some different kinds of rotations and learn about all these different roles we can be placed in, and It’s a really amazing opportunity,” Bradley said.

“Making a difference in that patient’s breathing is what we’re so passionate about, and what we can continue to work towards as we graduate as well.”

Emma Campbell, another student RT, said this is her second career, and she was drawn to the difference that these healthcare workers can make. “If you can’t breathe appropriately, that’s really scary. And so we’re there for some of the most intense moments of people’s lives. And so making your breathing feel a little bit better, that was really huge for me. And that’s what really drew me to the career as a whole,” she said.

Campbell said one of her favourite aspects of the role is taking people off a breathing machine.

“Their first few words after they get that breathing tube out is ‘thank you, thank you for helping me and thank you for taking good care of me.’ And that just leaves me with butterflies in my stomach. I’m so thankful that I get to do what I do, and I’m excited to graduate and do this all the time.”

Although RTs are found everywhere from the emergency room and intensive care units to community settings, they may not be as well known as other healthcare professionals, something RTs are working to change. Campbell said she had to do “quite a bit of digging” to find out about Respiratory Therapy.

“You hear about nursing and doctors all the time, but Respiratory Therapy doesn’t really roll off the tongue the same.”

(Kristen Holliday article on Castanet – October 21, 2021)