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Career Connections: Respiratory Care Therapist

6 minutes

(woman) People breathe all the time. It's something that we don't think about. It's something that we do naturally. My name's Emily Horning. I'm a registered respiratory therapist at Mercy Health Fairfield Hospital. I have two types of patients: those that breathe and those that don't breathe. So sometimes patients understand their breathing, and sometimes people have no idea. We come in and help them understand. We help them manage their breathing. We help give medicine to control their breathing, and sometimes when it becomes a critical situation, we breathe for them. A typical day as a respiratory therapist is similar to a nurse. We could have an easy day, where everyone's breathing well, but intermittently, there are emergencies that we run to. Respiratory, Emily. How can I help you? I work three days a week, a 12-hour shift. Within that day, I see a patient at least three times. I start with my initial round. I visit each patient. I visually assess them. I check their oxygenation using a pulse oximeter. I listen to their breath sounds with my stethoscope, and I can then determine their medicine given by the doctor's order. I will see them hours later to make sure that they're still trending upward. Many times, we do come into situations where patients aren't getting better, but worse. That's when we communicate with doctors and nurses.

[beeping]

My job entails seeing lots of types of patients-- everyone who breathes. A big part of my job is managing the oxygenation of a patient. All people in the environment are breathing the atmospheric 21% oxygen, so we supplement that percentage. If they need a lot of supplemental oxygen, something's wrong. My job is to then ventilate, meaning get the bad air out, whether noninvasively or invasively. We can hear fluid in the lungs, when lungs aren't opening with air, and we can determine where the problem is. We also use X-rays and CT scans to determine the type of fluid, and sometimes we even use MRIs. We use a lot of diagnostic skills when teaming up with nurses and doctors to determine what's really going on. We can either try a noninvasive method to ventilate the patient, such as a BiPAP machine. It's a machine that blows air in and then pulls air out. Sometimes it's not enough. And sometimes this is where we decide to take over the patient's breathing because they can't do it on their own. This is when the doctor intubates a patient, meaning put the tube down your airway in order to connect you to a mechanical ventilator. We are the people who run the life support. This is the most exciting part of my job, but the most challenging. This is someone's family member, so it can be serious. It can be rewarding when the patient comes back and you can take that tube and wean that ventilator back and take your support back, and that patient is breathing on their own again. That's really cool to help somebody breathe again.

[ringing]

Respiratory, Emily. How can I help you? One of the big parts of my education was my clinical experience and getting out there and being with patients, getting comfortable with patients. That's only something you learn how to do on the job. The level of education currently needed is an associate's degree of applied science in respiratory care technology. It's a two-year degree. There are fundamental courses you need to get into that. Once you're in your program, you are in clinicals. Most of your education is being on-site in hospitals, in diagnostic testing labs, so that really made a difference for me. You have to understand that numbers draw a picture in the body. There are lots of ways to gear your subjects to getting a good base and foundation. I would focus on chemistry, the physics, the biology, any communications courses, any math courses like algebra and even calculus. I would advise students, if they're interested in working in a hospital or with a patient population, to be a transporter. Getting those little jobs, those feet-in-the-door moments that can then support you to decide whether you want to be a nurse or a respiratory therapist or be a doctor, so you can see how a hospital works and be encouraged to do it. You're in a community of people that have already done it. There's lots of ways to help people breathe better. Sometimes it takes convincing, but speaking with people, educating them on having a better quality of life, that's the part that I enjoy.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

PH: 1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB: www.ed.gov.

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A Respiratory Care Therapist helps individuals when they can't breathe. Watch as a registered therapist shares how her training and two-year degree have given her the chance to play a pivotal role in caring for patients with respiratory needs. Part of the "Career Connections" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 6 minutes

Career Connections
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 2
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 3
3 minutes
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Episode 4
5 minutes
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Episode 5
5 minutes
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Episode 6
4 minutes
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Episode 7
7 minutes
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Episode 8
7 minutes
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Episode 9
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Career Connections
Episode 10
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12