‘It’s not a desk job’: RTs say they love their career choice

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Friday, May 19, 2017

YARMOUTH, Maine – Job prospects for respiratory therapists look rosy, with an expected growth rate of about 12% and increased recognition by the medical community of the role they play in keeping costs down.

But long-time RTs say they’ve always found it to be a fulfilling career.

“There’s always been plenty of job opportunities and lots of variety in what you can do as an RT,” said Mary Wightman, a staff RT with Pediatric Home Services in Roseville, Minn., who has 35 years of experience. “It’s not a desk job.”

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked respiratory therapist as No. 21 in Best Health Care Jobs and No. 36 in The 100 Best Jobs. The profession is expected to add nearly 15,000 jobs by 2024, with a median salary of $57,790.

People skills

Most RTs work in the hospital environment, anywhere from the emergency room to the ICU, while outside the hospital, they may be performing sleep studies or providing care in the home. In all situations, the ability to communicate with the patient is key, but the homecare environment allows for better relationship building, say RTs.

“When you go to a patient’s home, they are much more open and not as feisty as they are in the hospital,” says Kris Zatkof, clinical manager for Sleep Solutions in Troy, Mich., who has 30 years under her belt. “If you can get that relationship with the patient, you can get them compliant because you can really talk to them about how important it is.”

Keeping pace

While people skills are important for RTs, so is the ability to adapt and change, says Wightman.

“The field of respiratory therapy is constantly changing,” she said. “There are so many advancements to what we are doing that it’s a challenge to keep up with it all. Some of the advances are outpacing policies or FDA approval. You really need to have the ability to think well and use good clinical judgment.”

Gaining recognition

One reason for the constant change: The respiratory therapist profession is relatively young compared to physicians and nurses, and that can be challenging, says Wightman.

“A lot of people don’t even know who or what an RT is or does,” she said. “It’s a secret.”

But with hospitals getting penalized for patient readmissions within 30 days for patients with certain conditions, like COPD and congestive heart failure, that is slowly changing, say RTs.

“For awhile, they were steering (RT work) to LPNs, and I think they are finding they really do need the RTs to do that job,” Zatkof said. “They are valuing the role more with what we can offer.”