Have asthma? Or know someone who has asthma? An estimated 300 million people worldwide are diagnosed with the disease. Say a person gets short of breath when it gets really cold out, that could be a sign of asthma. The best thing to do is to go get it looked at by a healthcare professorial known as a Respiratory Therapist.
They will perform a rather simple breathing study to determine the presence of asthma and if found, the severity of it. Students may even have met a few of the specialists on campus, with the exception that they were Respiratory Students from the off-campus West Chester University/Bryn Mawr Hospital Respiratory Care Program.
These students complete a four-year program to obtain a Bachelors Degree in Health Science: Respiratory Care upon graduation. They are given a temporary license to work until they take the Certified Respiratory Therapist exam [CRT], and eventually the more advanced Registered Respiratory Therapist exam [RRT], which will enable them to become recognized as a Registered Respiratory Therapist [RRT] in the state of Pa. Most RTs work in adult hospitals, but other areas include children’s hospitals, home-care, pulmonary rehab centers, and sleep labs. Optional specialty credentials are offered, usually with an added bonus, in these areas.
The job description of a Respiratory Therapist can be pretty extensive at certain places. A typical week at work could consist of covering the pediatric intensive care unit on Monday, administering breathing medications on Tuesday, and managing a mechanically ventilated trauma patient on Wednesday.
Extensive knowledge of the cardiac and pulmonary systems is a must for accurate patient assessment, and good communication skills are required to perform daily tasks such as interacting with patients, nurses, doctors and families.
Respiratory Students are required to take all of WCU’s required general education classes, biology, chemistry, human anatomy, before they begin a focus on cardiopulmonary diseases, oxygen delivery devices, and the theory of mechanical ventilation, among others.
After completion of the first two semesters of the program, students complete ten weeks of clinical training over the summer in a variety of local hospitals in and around Philadelphia such as DuPont Children’s Hospital in Delaware, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and many of the Mainline Health Hospitals.
Clinical training consists of students shadowing an actual RT working in the hospital and slowly gaining confidence and competence in their future ability as a therapist.
Student teachers go through a similar process where they “work” at a school teaching certain age groups. The training is meant to help transition the student to working and life post-college.
Training begins with floor care based work such as administering nebulized breathing treatments, drawing arterial blood gases, performing breathing exercises for post-op patients, and performing bedside pulmonary function tests.
Eventually, the student is able to take on more responsibility and is given time in the Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) for the remainder of the program.
Rotations can include the Cardiac, Neonatal, Adult, and Medical Intensive Care Units. As the student gets closer to graduation, they should be familiar and comfortable performing the required tasks listed in an RT’s job description.
Lastly, starting the third year, the classes are off-campus in a Bryn Mawr Hospital classroom.
If a student is undecided about what to major in, or is thinking about changing their major, think about this. When seeing someone in need of help, does one not hesitate to help him or her? Compassion is a strong emotion, and if one can handle the ‘gross’ aspect of working with sick people, then consider a job in healthcare.
WCU’s Respiratory program is an option that can leave students in a great position at graduation where, for the most part, graduates choose where they want to work, not the other way around.
Michael Sheehan is a fourth-year student majoring in Respiratory Care. He can be reached at MS656728@wcupa.edu.