A baby is born every eight seconds in the United States. Unfortunately, not all babies are born healthy. Thousands of babies are born prematurely. For these babies, breathing is a struggle because their lungs are not fully developed. Without the skill and expertise of a respiratory therapist, many of these babies would not survive.
For those who are looking for a 9 to 5 job, respiratory therapy is not a good career choice. Many therapists work 12-hour shifts. Those therapists who work eight-hour shifts rarely leave work on time. Respiratory emergencies happen often, especially in the neonatal ward of a hospital.
A typical day would begin at 7:00 am. The therapist must review all patient charts paying attention to any physician prescribed orders. During the shift change, the night shift will provide information on the status of patients on the floor. It is important to know if any patient had trouble during the night.
By 8:00 am, the therapist prepares to make ventilator rounds. It is the responsibility of the therapist to make sure each ventilator is checked to ensure the ventilators are functioning properly. Every action a therapist takes must be documented. In addition to the morning rounds, a therapist must document and assess the ventilator settings every two hours.
Once the initial ventilator checks have been completed, a therapist will meet with nurses, physicians, and pharmacists at the bedside of each patient. In the hospital neonatal ward, at the crib of each baby that has respiratory issues. Each case is discussed in detail to ensure the prescribed treatment plan is understood and followed.
After meeting with the medical team, it is usually time for the two-hour ventilator checks. However, in a volatile neonatal hospital ward, it is likely a patient will be in crisis or a new patient will arrive. This is the challenge therapists face daily. Managing required rounds while managing unexpected emergencies makes this one of the most fast-paced careers a person can choose.
While performing ventilator rounds a baby is admitted due to breathing issues and for possible surgery. The therapist must connect the baby to a ventilator. X-rays must be ordered to make sure the ventilator settings are adequate. In addition, blood must be drawn and sent to the laboratory for analysis. The activity and noise distresses a baby in the next bed. The baby begins an episode of apnea and is turning blue. The therapist must immediately attempt to stimulate breathing. Once the baby is breathing and is out of danger, the therapist must continue with ventilator rounds.
A respiratory therapist’s day is filled with interruptions and emergencies that must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. In a hospital setting, patients are admitted 24/7. It is impossible to predict the number of patients who will be admitted with respiratory problems. While much of a therapist’s responsibilities appear to be routine, it can be a challenge managing the routine.
Typically, a respiratory therapist in a hospital will have no more than twelve patients under his or her care. Unfortunately, since there is a significant shortage of respiratory therapists, the number of patients can be higher. While this is a demanding career, it is a rewarding career.
Respiratory therapists are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, job growth is predicted to exceed 21% in the next few years. Unfortunately, the education for respiratory therapy is demanding. This dissuades many people from earning a degree in respiratory therapy.
Earning a degree in respiratory therapy requires a course load in mathematics, pharmacology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology and medical terminology. In addition, the core professional courses include such courses as Pulmonary Testing and Principles of Mechanical Ventilation. This is a demanding curriculum that includes laboratory work and clinical rotations.
Before working as a therapist, an individual must meet state licensing requirements. Most states and employers require therapists to earn the designation of Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). This designation is earned by taking an exam given by the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC). The NBRC has its own eligibility requirements that therapists must meet to be eligible to sit for the exam.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports the median salary of respiratory therapists is $52,200. However, this statistic is based on salaries in the year 2008. Due to the shortage of therapists, the median salary is probably around $58,000 per year. This does not include sign-on bonuses or shift differential. Sign-on bonuses are usually $2500 to $4000.