Campus News

The Journey of a Respiratory Therapist

By Chris Nowinski

Respiratory Therapy students come from all walks of life. We are former high school students, auto technicians, CNAs, banquet managers, ambulance drivers and bar tenders. We came together to learn the multifaceted field of respiratory therapy and the ways of the respiratory therapist. Our field requires us to wear multiple hats, from knowing the highly technical aspects of patient ventilator life support to assessing sleep studies and pediatric asthma care plans. We learn the intricacies of respiratory, cardiac and renal anatomy and physiology. We develop medical practices to care for people in emergency rooms, intensive care, cardiopulmonary wings, postoperative units, delivery rooms and much more.

Our job is a specialty, yet the scope of what we’ll soon do is very broad. It is a technology-driven field, but we also learn patient care, patient assessment and patient education. We become advocates for our patients. We become crucial members of our medical teams by knowing our equipment and knowing our patients’ disease processes. We pair ever-changing technologies with sound and proven medical care.

During our first year we learn the foundations of our practice. We dive deeper into cardiac, pulmonary and renal anatomy and physiology. The respiratory devices used in Respiratory Therapy are complicated and the variety is immense. We learn these devices, their capabilities, how our patients benefit from them and possible hazards. One apparatus may be good for one thing and not so good for another. We learn how to recognize good outcomes as well as adverse outcomes.


As our knowledge grows, we learn how to advance our patient’s health. We learn patient assessment skills and practice them in lab and in the clinical setting. We begin with life-saving skill training because we may need these skills immediately in our first clinical outings with our respiratory therapists preceptors in the field. As the first year progresses, our foundation is stronger and our skill base deepens. We learn mechanical ventilation and how to do it safely. We learn the pharmacology associated with our practice and how those medications affect our patients.

By the end of our first year, our heads are bursting with knowledge, and now is the time to put it to use. We do multiple full-shift clinicals at surrounding hospitals where we can put into practice our recent training and skills to use with experienced respiratory therapists at our sides. This clinical session is where everything begins to make sense. Here the devices, assessments, care, numbers and formulas are applied. You see your foundation beginning to make a difference in people’s lives. You might save a life in the emergency room. You might help a newborn breathe better just seconds into their life. You might assist with special medical procedures. Everyone’s experience during the summer clinical is different. Your experiences will help you decide which branch of respiratory therapy to take in your future.

In the second year, we enhance our foundation even more and get into some more specialties under the respiratory-therapist umbrella. We practice pulmonary function testing. We do a sleep study clinical. We get rooted cardiopulmonary training and Advanced Mechanical Ventilation instruction and experiences. We enhance our life-saving skills with Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support and intensive care procedures.

Now our clinical time is spent tying everything together and applying all techniques. The Respiratory Therapy instructors are highly experienced and play a profound role in our development. They come from the hospitals we’ll eventually be practicing at. They know and implement everything we’ll need to be successful in our discipline. They have top-notch experience in the leading big-city hospitals as well as small hospitals, doctor practices, pediatric specialists, pulmonary rehabilitation, neonatal and intensive care.

As graduation approaches, we are nervous, yet confident. Our minds have shifted towards board testing to qualify to be a respiratory therapist. Some of us will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Some will go practice in the hospital’s intensive-care units, emergency rooms, post-op floors, or cardiopulmonary rehabilitation suites. All of us will go on to care for our patients, bringing with us the invaluable lessons we’ve learned from SMCC’s Respiratory Therapy program.

Categories: Campus News

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