Submitted by: Deanne Mullis, RRT CRE BSc and Hannah Erhardt, SRT
A Respiratory Therapist’s Perspective
In March 2020, Cambridge Memorial Hospital, a hospital that serves a community of 130,000 was in the midst of trying to figure out how we were going to deal with the novel coronavirus that we had been hearing had been pushing hospitals all over the globe to their limits.
Our current RT staffing model has one Respiratory Therapist dedicated to the Intensive Care Unit of 12 beds. The pandemic plan included a surge plan for even more ICU beds and even extending into our Post Anaesthesia Care Unit. A second Respiratory Therapist is responsible for medical/surgical units, ED, Level 2 Special Care Nursery Code Blue, and Race Team. With new policies and directives being rolled out, what seemed like daily, we needed to develop a human resource strategy to assist with our expanding workload in order to allow the respiratory therapists to focus their efforts on bedside care. The idea of the Respiratory Therapy Aide was born, utilizing students. The call was put out for those with at least two years of Respiratory Therapy academic preparation. The hospital was able to hire 10 aides, all pre 3rd-year students whose clinical year had been put on hold, due to COVID-19. The group consists of 8 Conestoga College students and 2 Fanshawe College students. The hospital created a new job description that included a list of duties and responsibilities that would relieve some of the workload of the RTs while respecting the boundaries of an RT, a student respiratory therapist and an aide position. These aides quickly became our equipment specialists and as future 3rd Year students, they understood the language of respiratory therapy, which can be foreign to those on the outside. The RT Aide role includes attending all high-risk procedures such as resuscitations as they are able to quickly obtain equipment, deliver arterial blood gases to the lab, and assist with proning of ventilated patients. They are vital in keeping our ventilators cleaned and ready, airway boxes stocked, anaesthetic gas machines checked, and they keep an eye on our equipment inventory. They are building relationships with the longer-term patients, who look forward to their daily visits, whether it be refilling their CPAP machine humidifier at night, checking on their inner cannula stock at their bedside, or just stopping by for a chat. In turn, I hope that their experiences as an RT Aide have given them some hands-on experience to take with them as their clinical placements begin to open up, and that they transition into their clinical placement with confidence, real-world experience, and problem-solving skills that respiratory therapists are known for.
A Respiratory Therapy Aide’s Perspective
At the beginning of April 2020, many 2nd year RT students were finishing their winter semester through virtual learning and online exams. As the COVID-19 pandemic was picking up steam we received word that our clinical placements were going to be put on hold. With the academic term almost finished, some of us wondered if there was some other way to be involved on the frontlines while we waited for our clinical placement to start. When the job posting for Respiratory Therapy Aides at Cambridge Memorial Hospital was posted, we had our answer. It was new territory for us and the Respiratory Therapists we worked with, but we found our place within the team. Working as an RT Aide has allowed me to better understand the workflow in the hospital and how the Respiratory Therapists fit in. Understanding the respiratory therapy language allowed me to be that extra set of hands to run and grab equipment quickly during those high-risk procedures such as intubations and codes, where we were trying to limit contamination. This experience has reinforced what I have learned in my courses, especially when it comes to respiratory equipment, and has helped me continue to develop my communication and problem-solving skills. I value the time spent getting to know the longer-term patients. When you see these patients almost every shift it becomes important to build those relationships. Myself and one of the other RT Aides are fortunate that Cambridge Memorial is also our base site for clinical placement; when our clinical year starts, we will already be oriented to the hospital and can focus more on patient care right from the start. I may not speak for all of us, but I have learned a lot through my experience as an RT Aide and a lot of the nerves that I have felt about starting clinical have been replaced with confidence.