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Respiratory Therapists: Front-line Heroes

Posted by Lisa Fuchs, MHA, RRT, CTTS, CHWC Thursday, Sep. 24, 2020

Respiratory therapists help patients who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and now, COVID-19. They care for people across the lifespan, from babies to the elderly. Now, more than ever, there is a demand for respiratory therapists, especially since those who overcame COVID-19 may have future respiratory problems. Dr. Lisa Fuchs expands on the recent need for respiratory therapists and how they've become front line heroes amid the pandemic.

Respiratory therapist holding a breathing mask hooked up to a thin clear tube

From the nation’s emergency rooms to its intensive care units, respiratory therapists (RT) are front-line heroes. They’re tasked with fighting against COVID-19, the novel coronavirus carving a deadly path around the world. A year ago, none of us knew of COVID-19. Now, none of us will forget it.

There are an estimated 118,000 respiratory therapists in the United States. According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine, reports from ICUs worldwide suggest the most common reason for COVID-19 patient care and admission is severe hypoxic respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.

Ventilators require intubation, the placement of a tube in the throat to enable the air moving in and out of the lungs. Intubating patients is one of the primary areas of expertise for respiratory therapists, and it’s what makes RTs an integral member of each hospital’s emergency medical team today.


Respiratory therapists treat patients from premature infants to the elderly. Personally, I have worked with patients from 24 weeks to 107 years old.

Although COVID-19 is currently first on everyone’s minds, respiratory therapists have many jobs. Beyond this emergency situation, the role encompasses finding, managing and preventing problems related to the cardiopulmonary system. For example, you may work with one patient who has emphysema and another patient injured in an accident who has trouble breathing without assistance.

Your patients rely on you to help diagnose conditions such as asthma, breathing disorders and sleep disorders, at which point you’ll help them decide upon different therapies. Once a decision has been made, you will implement and manage ongoing care and treatment programs.

Our Respiratory Care program sets high standards for our students in the classroom and part of a wider healthcare community. From participation in Asthma Camp to activities related to cystic fibrosis, students work as part of a healthcare team and an educational environment that harnesses high-tech nursing labs and a variety of leading-edge technologies and therapies.

Even before the current crisis, respiratory therapist jobs have been in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 23 percent job growth for the profession between 2018 and 2028. Although hospitals are the primary source of jobs for RTs, other employment opportunities include wellness centers, medical offices, asthma clinics and sleep disorder centers. Case management and telehealth are considered tremendous opportunities for RTs in the near future.

Over the past five years, Nebraska Methodist College students nearing the end of our accredited, 24-month Associate of Science degree program are contacted and often hired in February by employers who eagerly await the students’ May graduation.

Additionally, our graduates are prepared to sit for the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam, which leads to the advanced practitioner exam to earn the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential.

Students who earn the RRT credential are eligible to enter our Bachelor of Science Respiratory Therapist (BSRT) degree program. They may complete the BSRT program in 12 to 15 months entirely online. Nebraska Methodist College was named the No. 27 online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy in the nation by Intelligent for 2020. The ranking commended NMC for having the best specialization options among the top group.



RT classes at Nebraska Methodist College are typically 50/50 men and women, which mirrors the mix in the field. Skilled and uniquely experienced to deliver comprehensive respiratory care. RTs are selfless individuals with callings to serve their patients with compassion. Their dedication is evident in the large number of current RTs who have 25 or 30 years of experience. Many RTs in area hospitals are working exhausting, extended shifts without meals or rest breaks. They love their work, and it shows.

Respiratory care is a career that you will find both challenging and fulfilling. And though the work is centered on the lungs, the care RTs provide comes directly from the heart.

If you share in this personal and professional calling, consider studying to earn a respiratory therapist degree at Nebraska Methodist College.

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Lisa Fuchs joined the faculty at Nebraska Methodist College in 2010. From 2010 to 2011 she was a clinical instructor and taught Respiratory Care Lab. In September 2011, she was promoted to director of clinical education for the Respiratory Care program. She became program director in 2016.



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Topics: allied health career, respiratory care, bachelor's degree, covid-19, associate's degree