Trau·ma  Junk· ie  ( 'trau-m&  'j&[ng]-kE) n. Slang
  1. One who has an insatiable interest, devotion or addiction to responding and assisting people with serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.

Not your normal "respiratory therapy vs. nursing" post

"Two roads diverged in a wood / And I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference"-- from Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled."
In the past few months, there have been a lot of times that people have asked me why I want to be a respiratory therapist. The truth is, I really never even considered RT as a profession until about a year ago, but I've put a lot of thought into it since then. As some of you may know, I was planning to go to nursing school long before I started looking into respiratory therapy. I began working in the medical field under the nursing model, as a Certified Nursing Assistant, so it seems strange to most that I'd choose RT over nursing, especially because nurses are paid more and there are more opportunities available as a nurse. What I mean is that RT's are limited in where they can work: typically either a hospital, nursing home, flight/critical care transport, or home healthcare; whereas nurses can work at a hospital, nursing home, school, home health/hospice, flight/critical care transport, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, clinics, and so on. In addition, there is the nursing shortage, which is practically job security.

Now, I took all of this into consideration and I still decided that nursing wasn't for me. It's not that I couldn't do it, or that I think I wouldn't make a good nurse; it is something much bigger than that. What initially sparked my interest in respiratory therapy was, ironically, a patient who arrested while I was working at the hospital. After the Code Blue was paged, I believe the RT's were the first to arrive. I was fascinated by how they just took over and were so calm during the entire code. They were sharp, intelligent, and able to think critically even in the most hectic situations. Everything they did was like second nature to them. I have to say that, prior to the code, I really didn't know much about what RT's do on a daily basis, other than neb treatments. After this, I started talking to the respiratory therapists at the hospital. I asked all kinds of questions about what they do, what type of patients they care for, the amount of education needed to be an RT, and about their overall job satisfaction. The more I talked about it, the more I started to feel like it was what I wanted to do with my life (or at least this part of my life). So, I've compiled some of the reasons why I want to be an RT, and they're listed below:

  • As you all know, respiratory therapy is still a fairly new profession. Whereas doctors and nurses have been around for centuries, respiratory therapists for about half a century. I like the fact that I am going to be a part of something that is growing and trying to gain further recognition.
  • Perhaps the most obvious reason is that I can't think of anything more rewarding that I'd enjoy doing besides helping someone breathe easier. To say that I will be the one managing the patient's respiratory care feels good. After all, if you're not breathing, you're not doing anything else.
  • I enjoy the technical aspect of working with ventilators, BiPAP, and so on. I've always been pretty tech savvy and mechanical, but I also knew that I want to work in the medical field. Respiratory therapy seems to be a pretty good profession for me because I get the "best of both worlds." Not only do I get to troubleshoot equipment, but I also get to take care of people.
  • The title of my blog gives this one away, but I am basically what I'd called addicted to critical care. I was drawn to respiratory therapy partly because of the level of care of the patients that they take care of, and I really want to be able to work in the ER or ICU, preferably in a Level I trauma center. I like that RT school trains you to critically think and care for patients requiring urgent care.
  • I like the variety. It is interesting to me that I will one day be working with all kinds of patients, from peds to the elderly, from subacute patients to the critically ill.
  • Another reason I want to be an RT is the fact that therapists provide advanced therapy and usually rely a great deal on independent judgement.
  • The final reason I can think of right now is that I'd like to be a part of the healthcare team providing care to patients. RTs work with nurses, physicians, and other healthcare staff to decide what is best for the patient, and I really would like to be a part of that team.

In regards to pay and job openings, I say, So what? Around here, RT pay is fairly comparable to RN pay. And job openings? Just months ago, the first baby boomer began drawing social security, and there are millions more of them to follow. The number of patients with respiratory diseases and conditions are on the rise, and if that isn't job security for respiratory therapists, then I don't know what is. I've learned over the past few months that RTs started out about 40 years ago working exclusively in hospitals. They were known as Inhalation Therapists, and basically the only responsibility they had was administering neb treatments and managing the patient's medical gas therapy regimen. Over just the past four decades, the respiratory therapist has taken on a much more active role in the care of their patients. As mentioned earlier, RTs have branched out to work in nursing homes, on critical care transport teams, in home healthcare, and a number of other alternative settings such as case management. Most RT's have told me that wages are slowly going up and that respiratory therapists are starting to gain more recognition than they have.

Some older therapists see respiratory therapy as a dead-end profession that will be phased out in a matter of years, for whatever reason. On the other hand, I feel just the opposite. For me, respiratory therapy is the beginning of a rewarding career and I don't think we are going anywhere. It is for this reason that I can't wait until I graduate in 2010 so that I can starting working as an RCP. I'm sure I'll enjoy it (mostly) every step of the way.

If you are trying to decide between nursing and respiratory, well I don't have the answers that you are looking for, and I'm not sure that anyone does. My decision to go to school for respiratory therapy is proof that sometimes it is better to just do what you want to do, not what everyone else thinks is best for you. There are others I know of that have been in the same position and decided on nursing instead of RT, and have no regrets.

Trust your instincts and everything else will fall in to place.

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