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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My advice for new or aspiring Respiratory Therapists

So you're interested in becoming a respiratory therapist (RT). If so, you are -- in my humble opinion -- making a great career choice.

First allow me to state here that no job is perfect. You'll read posts by me or other RTs where we complain about low morale, apathy, burnout, lack of respect, poor pay and stupid doctor orders. Those are similar complaints to just about any job in the world -- seriously. So don't let some ornery, apathetic RT convince you to stay away from this career field.

I say this because I was once swayed away from becoming an RT. I wanted to be an RT way back in the 11th grade, yet I was failing chemistry at the time, and during career day the same lady who convinced me to become an RT told me I'd have to pass chemistry.

So the following year when I was filling my application to Ferris State University I did not check the box that said respiratory therapy like I wanted, I checked the box that said journalism instead. Ironically, 4 years later, after failing as a journalist, I went back to school to become an RT. Perhaps it was fate, but here I am.

My point is, if you have a dream, don't let anything get in your way. Yes RT school is hard, harder than nursing school perhaps, yet college is not like high school. In college you're taking courses you want to take, classes are more spread out, and you should have plenty of time to study.

So, if you're interested in becoming an RT, just do it.

Here are some advantages to becoming an RT:
  1. The pay is decent: It's a good career. You can support a family. Yet if you're aspirations are to have a million material things, then you might have to work overtime and force your spouse to work too.
  2. Workload is flexible: Depending on where you work, you'll have busy days and days that aren't so busy. When it's not busy you can have fun on the job. You can do things like I'm doing right now.
  3. Variable hospitals: You can work at large trauma centers where you can work in an ER like what you see on TV, or you an work in a small town hospital like I do where the job is a bit different. In this way, there are choices (more on this in a bit)
  4. Transferable: You can be an RT anywhere in the world. If you move, you should have no trouble finding a job.
  5. Great people: You'll meet many great people. Not just fellow coworkers, but on the patient side too. If you like people, this is a great career choice
  6. Joy of helping people: If you like helping people, this is the perfect job for you. You'll be doing it on a daily basis.
  7. Teamwork: To me there is no better joy (other than helping people) than being part of a very good team. Working with others to solve a problem -- to save a life-- is very rewarding.
  8. Stepping stone job: This can be a great career choice, or you can use it as a stepping stone to becoming something greater, such as a doctor. Any doctor who has an RRT and a couple years experience as an RT is going to be a much better doctor
So now you've been accepted to RT school. I just want you to know it will be the hardest two years of your life. Talk to your teachers now -- yes right now -- and find out what books you will need in RT school. Pick them up at the school library and start reading.

This is what I did. I didn't want to fail. By the time RT school started I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. The first couple weeks of school were pretty easy because I had already been studying. I didn't read any RT books, but I did pick up an anatomy and physiology book and a medical terminology book and studied them. It worked great to prepare me for RT school.

Study ever day. Do not go out and party every night in RT school. If you do you will be the one who fails. You will have to get a C+ or better in most RT related classes, and most RT classes are hard. This is important because there's a lot you'll need to know to be an RT, or at least to be a good RT with great wisdom.

So study hard every day. My advice is that you take great notes in class, and when you get home recopy your notes onto a word processor or a notebook and organize them really well. That way you'll have your own book of sorts to study from.

Then every day look at all the notes from that class that you've accumulated, and study that way. That's what I did, and I got all As in RT school. (I did not get all A's in journalism school, not even close. Yet I learned how to study. Trust me on this).

Once clinicals start, you might become burned out. This is especially true if you have to work a real job too to make money and/ or you have a family to tend to too. In this case, you'll want to make sure you reserve one night a month to go out with your friends or spouse and have a good time.

Look, it's only 2 years. It's really hard, but if you buckle down, you can learn a ton and be one of the 5 or 6 who passes RT school. That's true. On day one of RT school the room will be full, 30 plus students perhaps. Yet on the last day two years later, there won't be many. One will be you.
So now you've passed Rt school, where should you work? Well, that's up to you. Do you want to work at the large teaching hospital in the big city, or a small town hospital like I do where it has busy times and slow times. When it's slow you can do what I'm doing now. Heck, I work at a small hospital, and when it's slow going to work is like being on vacation.

In fact, I joked with my RN coworkers the last time I worked. I said, "Look, if I wanted to get a job where I actually had to do work I wouldn't have become an RT." I was being facetious, yet there was some truth to that. The more education you have, the less real work you have to do. For example, doctors use their brains more than their hands.

My advice is when you are seeking your first job, that you get a job working in that big city hospital. Seriously. You will want to work where you can get as much experience as you can. You'll want to see the trauma, and the brain injury, and take care of all sorts of critical care patients on ventilators.

You'll want to see pediatrics and sick neonates and adults too. You'll want to see it all and do it all. And you should. Also you must work hard and prioritize your work. You must jump up out of your chair every time your beeper goes off. You must work to the point of burnout.

When your coworkers call to ask you to pick up a day, or your boss, you must say, "Yes, I'll come in." You must kiss butt. You must walk fast from room to room. You must be to work 10 minutes early every day. And you must never complain. If others in the room complain, you must keep your ears and mouth shut and not participate. Better yet, you must leave the room. You'll be seen in a better light by every one that way.

Don't think the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence. There are complainers in every job. There is politics in every job. There are those with low morale in every job. Bosses appear to be more concerned with dotting i's and crossing t's in every job than caring for patients. It's not true, but that's what it seems.

Instead of complaining, do something honorable. Find some administrative duty you can participate in. Go to every meeting. When people say, "How are you doing," say, "I'm doing wonderful," even if you feel gloomy that day.

When you're leaving work, never say, "You better wear your running shoes today, because it's not fun out their -- it's hell." Those are words of the pessimist. A pessimist is never seen in a positive light by his bosses and coworkers. You must not be that person. You must say things like, "It was a busy day, but it was fun."

Your boss will come to you with criticism from time to time, and she may even leave you notes with things you forgot to do. When this happens you will smile and say, "I will do better next time." Or simply say, "Yes ma'am." Do not ever defend yourself. Do not say, "But..." Do not say you didn't do it even if you didn't. Be noble. Be a real man or woman. Take the hit and move on.

And then come up with a system to make you better. Double check your charting at the end of every shift. Chart often. Do rounds, and then sit down to chart. Don't sit and chart when it's time to clock out. Have your charting done before then.

Seriously. I'd do this at least for two years before deciding if that's what you want to continue to do, or if you want to get a new job at a small town hospital where I work.

At a small town hospital you'll see it all, but not as often. In a way, you'll have to work harder on keeping up on your critical care skills, your baby ventilator skills, and your sick pediatric skills because you won't see those very often, yet from time to time you will. Most of the time you'll be taking care of adult patients.

I love working for a small hospital. Like I said, sometimes going to work is like going on vacation. Sometimes it can be as swamped as that larger hospital, yet sometimes the patient load will be down and you can do other things, like coming up with ideas to make the hospital better, such as researching and writing new protocols, or blogging, or gossipping (I don't recommend that though).

When I first got my job at Shoreline one of my co-workers who had worked as an RT for quite a few years gave me this same advice I'm giving you now: "work at a large hospital to get experience first. You'll see a lot more, and be able to keep up on your skills."

You must give 100% from the time you walk into work to the time you leave. You must always be involve din something useful. If it's slow, reading an RT magazine is something useful. If you're burned out, you can read your own novel. That's fine. But do not slack. Get your job done.

Never. Never. Never leave work for your replacement. Even if there's a new order right at shift change, go do it. Don't leave incentive spirometers, or smoking cessations, or new treatments for your coworker. Don't leave EKGs, especially if one was ordered two hours before it's time to go.

Be seen as a hard worker. Chart well, chart accurately, give the correct meds, be honest, and you will succeed in this career. Read my blog too. Keep up on your RT wisdom. Don't let what you learned in RT school slip from your mind. Impress a doctor with your wisdom. Read charts first thing every day. Know as much as you can about your patients.

For more tips for new and aspiring RTs, click on the tab above that says RT Student Wisdom.


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work! I have been reading your posts for over a year and never commented. I have rtcave bookmarked and check-in everyday for updates. Your experience has yielded invaluable tips and advice for me and many others. Hope you keep this site up and active for many years to come!! Thank you and god bless.

Ryzo58 said...

Thank you for the extremely helpful tips. i really appreciate you giving your personal experiences in the field, it has given me something to look forward to once i have graduated from RT School. Please Keep posting, i look to forward to continueing to read your blogs

take care

Anonymous said...

Thank you...I was accepted into RT program for Spring 2013..This will be saved in my favorites and read more than one.

Rick Frea said...

You are welcome! Good Luck!

Unknown said...

How is the job market? I'm from Buffalo NY suppose to be starting RT school this fall. After contacting local hospitals and online research it seems it will be a waste of time and money. A woman I spoke with today actually said "I hope you have a back up plan".---help

Rick Frea said...

I think in any job if you are willing to relocate, there is plenty of work.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm a student at Ferris State University and I'm strongly considering respiratory therapy - your post definitely has helped me lean towards it. Go dawgs!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post and Thank you!!...I live in Atlantic county NJ and there is lack of work. It's who you know and slow. I have been working for less than a year at a nursing home and dread working. Everyone i feel complains about the facility and or job load and it makes me not want to work in this field. I'm frustrated because I work as needed which is not often. I often get anxiety when I go in because I'm not using my skills enough. I need help because I'm starting to doubt this occupation. I was originally dental hygiene but now.regret I didn't choose that instead.

Rick Frea said...

2 comments. 1. The good thing about the profession is that it's a job. In a time when many people are looking, this is a good thing.

2. There are many skills to be learned as an RT. Many of these skills can be useful in other fields. It is never too late change careers.

John Bottrell said...

Ferris is where I earned my Bachelor's degree, although my RT came from Muskegon. Still, I hear from my friends who attended the Ferris RT program that it's pretty good.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for taking time to publish here. I was feeling very anxious after class today. Seems overwhelming! This is my 3rd semester. Definitely seems harder than previous classes. Now that I've read your advice, I feel more optimistic, especially with new strategies in hand. It's like I've talked it over with a good friend! I'm going to try to use some of your tips tonight. Please continue your work, this is so very helpful. God bless you!

sprtngrl46 said...

I'm doing my pre reqs right now, and wonder if there are many jobs? From what I've read, the jobs are scarce. This is my second career (in in my 40s!), and am doing this all on loans, so I need to choose a career wisely.

John Bottrell said...

That depends on where you live and whether you are willing to relocate. I always see jobs listed. That said, most people start out on a per deim basis,and then fill in the full time jobs as they come open.