Thursday, April 29, 2021

Respiratory Therapists play major role in health care

Respiratory Therapists play major role in health care


Ask Lynne Ward to best sum up the role of a respiratory therapist (RT) and she takes a moment to consider.

What’s being asked is not an easy task. Because of the scope of their role within a hospital and all of the patients they help, trying to explain it in a few words is next to impossible.

“We’re like the firefighters of the hospital,” said Ward, an RT with more than 20 years of experience. “If there’s an emergency, we’re there.”

Emergency room. They are there

Intensive care units. They are there.

Pediatrics. They are there.

Name a part of the hospital and you’ll find an RT helping someone.

It’s what initially drew Ward to the profession. She moved to Ottawa which offered the Respiratory Therapy course in French.

“I didn’t know anybody in the field, I thought only doctors and nurses worked in hospitals,” she said. “It’s such a broad spectrum, that’s what really appealed to me. Wherever people need to breathe in a hospital, we’re there.”

For instance any kind of cardiology or respiratory distress such as heart attacks, asthma attacks, major traumas or anything that could affect the mental status of a patient involves an RT. Perhaps someone has a sleep disturbance or they’re dealing with emphysema or asthma, again RTs are involved in helping diagnose and treat the conditions. Respiratory therapists also work in home care, helping people in the community manage their chronic illness.

From birth through to a persons final moments, RTs are there helping them through their journey in whatever form it might take.

The profession took on even more importance during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The respiratory illness presented health care workers across the globe with new problems and challenges.

“The last year has definitely been a lo more stressful,” Ward said. “We have had to adapt to new equipment and technology, plus change where and how we do procedures to make sure everyone involved is safe.

“There were new ventilation strategies and so many things changed, so we had a lot of reading and research to do.”

She said RTs have always been involved in critical situations, so that helped prepare them for the pandemic. However, the stress didn’t stop once they finished their shift at the hospital. For instance, RTs would be in the room of a COVID positive patient five to seven times a day. Despite wearing all of the protective equipment and following proper procedures, there’s always worry.

“You’re worried about your patients and on top of that you’re worried about potentially bringing it home to your family,” Ward said.

Her fellow RTs have been a tremendous help throughout the pandemic in dealing with the ever-changing circumstances and conditions they have faced. She describes the RTs in her hospital as a tightknit group of about 25 who exchange ideas and help one another deal with the pressures they face as essential workers on the front lines in the fight against COVID.

One of the positive changes she has witnessed during the past 12 months is an increased recognition of RTs and their contributions to public health care.

“It’s nice to be recognized because people really didn’t have an understanding of what we were doing,” she said. “We still get called technologists sometimes, but the role has evolved and changed into a lot of intervention and therapy that I don’t that it applies anymore.

“Some skills we have are the same as nurses and some are the same as doctors.”

After more than 20 years in the profession, she continues to love her work.

“It’s a broad and rewarding career that involves so many skills, a lot of which you get to use everyday.”

Respiratory Therapists sidebar


Respiratory therapists have the skills, knowledge and judgement to:

  • Maintain an open airway for trauma, intensive care, and surgery patients
  • Assist in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and support of critically ill patients
  • Provide life support for patients who can't breathe on their own
  • Attend high risk births and assist babies who have breathing problems
  • Stabilize high risk patients being moved by air or ground ambulance
  • Provide assistance in the delivery of general anaesthesia procedures
  • Administer inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication and oxygen
  • Conduct tests to measure lung function
  • Teach people how to manage their chronic lung disease or to quit smoking
  • Provide in-home respiratory care to adults and children

(Information courtesy of the New Brunswick Association of Respiratory Therapists)