By Jeff Yurek, BScPhm

While many were able to safely stay and work from home during the pandemic, respiratory therapists (RT) were increasing their hours and directly facing the COVID virus. Scientists had little understanding of how the virus spread but knew it had a high mortality rate. RTs are the crucial members of the healthcare team who ensured that while the virus ravaged the person, patients could still breathe. Putting their lives and their families lives at risk they persevered and continued to work.  One of the ways to thank these heroes is to help celebrate Respiratory Therapy Week from October 23rd – 29th.

RTs are highly skilled specialists with a primary focus on how you breathe. In a hospital environment, you will find them working in fast-paced urgent care areas like Emergency and ICU or ongoing care areas such as neonatal nurseries and patient wards. Out in the community, you will find RTs in health centres, running diagnostics in laboratories such as sleep and pulmonary clinics, and assisting patients with in-home respiratory care.

An RT’s duties are part of a long and varied list that includes:

  • Emergency resuscitation
  • Assessing and treating patients with breathing difficulties
  • Administering oxygen and other medical gases
  • Running tests to diagnose, track, and manage respiratory disease
  • Providing and maintaining mechanical ventilators
  • Assisting with anesthesia
  • Stabilizing respiratory patients during transport
  • Providing respiratory assistance during high-risk deliveries

To become a respiratory therapist in Ontario, you must complete a three-year diploma program that includes a practical, hands-on component and lab work. As an RT student, you will learn general anatomy, physiology, and specialized subjects, including arterial blood gases and anesthesia. For more information, contact the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists or the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario.

We owe a debt of gratitude to these heroes for their work during the pandemic.  If you see a RT during the Respiratory Therapy Week, make sure you thank them for their dedication to our province.