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Monday, Feb. 8, 2021

A New Career Calling?

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COVID-19 and the Respiratory Therapist

By now, the acronym COVID, which stands for coronavirus disease, is a seemingly normal part of daily conversation of almost anyone that has any connection to the modern world. However, few seem to really know much about one of the most critical healthcare professionals on the front lines of fighting the pandemic. It’s the respiratory therapist.

Respiratory therapy, also known as respiratory care, is a profession that emerged around the 1940s, originating from a need to have higher-level training in healthcare workers that delivered oxygen and breathing treatments. Actual inhalation therapy has been around for centuries, with various ancient civilizations heating herbs to release fumes to be inhaled for medicinal reasons, of course. However, the profession of respiratory therapy (RT) has moved far beyond just the simple administration of oxygen and delivery of breathing treatments. RTs are on the frontlines in the intensive care setting and are primarily responsible for setting up and managing life support machinery, also known as mechanical respirators. During the pandemic, the respiratory therapist has become even more vital in the management of life-sustaining procedures.

The RT profession has grown to well beyond 100,000 licensed practitioners. Most recently, U.S. News and World Report ranked respiratory therapy as one of the best health-care jobs.

Not only is the salary for RTs consistently increasing, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the RT job outlook to be well above average with a 19% growth rate, and this was before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In recent months, there has been an overall deficit of available RTs to fulfill the rapidly increasing need for this specialty. Particularly during the pandemic, RTs have been called into action by the droves.

In our local area, Louisiana State University Health Shreveport (LSUHS) offers an intense training program in cardiopulmonary science in which graduates will attain a bachelor’s degree in addition to becoming a respiratory therapist. The Cardiopulmonary Science Program (CPS) at LSUHS also partners with Bossier Parish Community College’s Respiratory Therapy Program. Graduates are in great demand and can take advantage of immense opportunities to enter into various high-level positions. The Cardiopulmonary Science Program at LSUHS is one of the original allied health professional degrees offered on the LSUHS campus, graduating the first local CPS class in 1979. The CPS program has a long-standing 100% employment rate for graduates and ranks among the nation’s top schools for its pass rate on the board exam.

Anyone with a solid foundation in math and science interested in a healthcare career caring for patients with heart and lung conditions may want to become respiratory therapists. At LSUHS, the School of Allied Health’s CPS program offers additional specialty training in cardiovascular care, offering graduates of this four-year degree program exceptional marketability as a licenseeligible health-care provider. With the ongoing pandemic and the job market more challenging than ever, this is an excellent time to consider becoming a respiratory therapist.

For details on admissions criteria, cost and other relevant factors, visit www.lsuhs.edu/cps.

Tim Gilmore, Ph.D., RRT, AE-C, is the program director and associate professor of the Cardiopulmonary Science Program at the School of Allied Health Professions, LSU Health Shreveport.

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