National Respiratory Therapy Week
October 23, 2022
National Respiratory Therapy (RT) Week is celebrated annually during the last full week of October. This year, RT Week is October 23 to October 29. This year the National RT Week theme is "Inspiring Excellence in Respiratory Therapy."
We are proud to celebrate the work of our registered respiratory therapist (RRT) members. They are invaluable health-care professionals in many ONA bargaining units, who perform a wide range of tasks including:
- assessing, monitoring and treating individuals' respiratory and cardiorespiratory disorders;
- testing and measuring lung function;
- administering inhaled medical drugs and gases; and
- providing tools and support for smoking cessation programs.
Respiratory therapists are a vital part of the front-line care team in many areas including intensive care units, emergency departments, operating rooms, neonatal nurseries, outpatient clinics and home care. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario's respiratory therapists have been working tirelessly to keep Ontarians safe and healthy. They are an absolutely vital part of the front-line care team working against COVID-19. Learn more about the important work RRTs do.
On the front lines - a chat with a registered respiratory therapist
We spoke with Hayley Watson, a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) and ONA member, about the rewards, challenges, and future of this dynamic profession.
Back when she was a student, Hayley admits that like many people, she was unfamiliar with what exactly an RRT did. That changed when an acquaintance in the field shared their on-the-job experiences.
“Everything she was telling me about what she was doing in the hospital and the different areas you could work in sounded so appealing.”
Her enthusiasm for the job hasn’t diminished over the years. Now she works as an RRT at Southlake Regional Health Centre, where she says one of the highlights of the job is that “every single day is different.”
On a given day, registered respiratory therapists might be assigned to work in the hospital’s emergency room, intensive care units, operating rooms, or various wards, including pediatrics and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“Each day you’re going in and you’ll have a different assignment. I could be in the ICU for three days and each day will be different, even with those same patients, regarding the tests and procedures we do with them.”
She loves caring for diverse patients, who range from premature babies to seniors, and staying with them throughout their “patient journey.”
“I could have a day where it’s mostly baby-related, where I’m going to a bunch of high-risk deliveries and I’ve got sick patients in the NICU requiring our attention […] On the flip-side I’ll have a day where my focus seems to be on elderly patients and trying to get them home […] working with them and the team to get everything in place to get them home safety with all of the equipment and resources they need.”
If a patient is admitted who requires the support of an RRT, “we’re usually the first person they see and then the last person, when they’re leaving hospital or are at end-of-life.” She says it’s incredibly gratifying to build that connection and be with patients from the start of care to the end “and everything in between.”
Like SARs before it, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the profile of registered respiratory therapists, who play a vital role in caring for patients grappling with these deadly viruses.
Hayley says that the year and a half that she has spent on the front lines of the pandemic has been the most challenging period of her career and that she has never worked harder. There is a lot more acuity with COVID-19 patients and the team’s time-management skills and adaptability have been key.
“We had to modify and learn on the fly, as we were trying to figure out what was working best for these patients and what were other sites doing and how can we keep them alive.”
The pandemic has been hard on patients and their loved ones, who are unable to visit or be at the bedside, due to safety restrictions. Hayley has taken pride in the role she and her colleagues have played in providing a connection and comfort to those inside and outside the hospital walls.
“Being able to chat with them and hopefully reassure them and make them feel better is extremely rewarding.”
Staffing has been a huge challenge, as the pandemic has left health-care workers exhausted, sick and “burnt out across the board.” RRTs, nurses and others are fighting the pandemic on the front lines, while also living through it in their personal lives.
So, what would Hayley say to students or new registered respiratory therapists, who may be intimidated by the stories they’ve heard about working through the pandemic?
While the burnout and stress are real, the work is rewarding, and you will have so much support from your colleagues.
She says that registered respiratory therapists are a tight-knit profession, and some of her closest friendships are with coworkers who have also experienced the unique ups and downs of this job. Their team-based work also means they are supporting -and being supported by- nurses and other health-care workers.
“I think during this pandemic RRTs have more than proved themselves as invaluable team members. At Southlake we have such a good relationship with our ICU and cardiac ICU teams. We’re a well-oiled machine, and if one of the nurses is coming and saying there’s a problem, there’s no hesitation because I trust what they’re saying without a doubt […] The camaraderie that’s been in these ICUs over the last year and a half has been amazing. They’re helping us, we’re helping them. It’s truly been a team situation that’s been wonderful to see and be a part of.”
In the end, she says the “exciting and interesting” work of an RRT is worth the challenges. She sees huge room for growth in the profession and unique opportunities for those who want them. Before the pandemic, she spent a month in Cape Dorset in Nunavut, working in a TB clinic, something she never would have imagined doing.
The growing demand for registered respiratory therapists is evident, here in Ontario and across Canada. As the population ages, the need for their diverse skills will only increase, across all health-care sectors.
“The RT’s role in the OR is growing. We’re so short in all of our out-patient clinics […] there is such a need for RTs in the community to help [patients] manage home oxygen and the medication that they’re on […] We have respiratory therapists that, just like an air ambulance, are part of a team and will go pick up patients from different countries or transfer them to the sites they need to go to.”
Hayley regularly volunteers to represent respiratory therapists at her hospital’s Take Your Kid to Work Day (on-hold during the pandemic), and hopes to have even more opportunities to educate students and those considering a career in health care about this rewarding profession.
The bottom line, she says, is that health care needs more staff -including RRTs- on the front lines.
At Southlake, Hayley is strongly involved in the union, serving as the Grievance Representative for her bargaining unit. She is passionate about building a fair and safe workplace for her colleagues, and her patients, something she says is a key component to addressing staffing issues.
“We want to keep staff and we need to make this job look appealing across the board, from a fair wage, to fair hours, to scheduling and having support [….] Having the ONA backing is definitely making that seem much more like a reality.”
(First published in 2021)