Careers that Change the World: Respiratory Therapy Published November 1, 2016 by Ali Sexton

Respiratory Therapist and Patient

Rose State’s Health Sciences division offers multiple degrees that allow students to find fulfillment in the rapidly growing field of health care. For those wanting to balance career and family with making a difference, Respiratory Therapy offers exciting career opportunities across a wide range of disciplines. The field may be lesser-known than other options in health care, but with state-of-the-art facilities, experienced instructors and small class sizes, Rose State is preparing Respiratory Therapy graduates to successfully enter the job market and thrive in their careers.

What does a respiratory therapist do?

Respiratory therapists care for those who have trouble breathing, whether because of acute or chronic conditions. They can work with infants born prematurely with underdeveloped lungs, senior patients with lung disease and all ages in between. Respiratory therapists can:

-          Administer breathing assistance in emergency situations.

-          Examine patients with cardiopulmonary disorders and run diagnostic tests.

-          Work with physicians to develop patient treatment plans.

-          Care for respiratory patients post-surgery.

-          Treat patients using various therapies and medications.

-          Educate patients about how to use breathing equipment.

Job outlook for respiratory therapists in Oklahoma

A growing middle-aged and senior population brings increased diagnoses of respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, and pneumonia. Oklahoma is no stranger to these conditions, because of a high rate of tobacco use and a history of statewide chronic health problems. In fact, Oklahoma has the highest rate in the nation of death caused by chronic lower respiratory disease.

Respiratory therapists have ample opportunities to make a difference in our state. Employment in this field is expected to grow 12 percent in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Oklahoma has abundant respiratory therapy jobs available.

Respiratory therapists can work for hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, physicians' offices and clinics, home health care providers and more. Rose State graduates in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area earn starting salaries ranging from $18.50 to $30.00 per hour with solid salary growth and job security.

What sets Rose State’s program apart?

Respiratory Therapy Program Director Kathe Rowe sees a wide range of students coming through the program each year.  “We have a fairly small class size – typically only 16 to 24 students each year – so they receive that focused attention,” Rowe says. “They come from various backgrounds: some directly from high school, some adults in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s who are looking to shift careers.”

No matter their background or age, Rose State’s integrated curriculum prepares students for success.

“The medical director of our program is a pulmonologist,” Rowe explains. “The students meet with him weekly. He gets them used to talking to physicians in terms of patients and care plans.” The medical director also plays the role of the physician in Rose State’s simulation lab, where students learn to assess various types of respiratory patients, share the vital information with a physician and help develop a care plan.

The state-of-the-art simulation lab facilities prepare students for virtually any scenario they may come across in the field. Respiratory Therapy has its own lab and shares simulation mannequins with the Nursing program.

 “The mannequins are incredibly high-tech,” Rowe says. “They can simulate breathing; their chests actually move up and down, and you can even take their blood pressure.” The simulation mannequins hook up to computers to allow students to learn about vital signs and analyze data.

Spreading the word about respiratory therapy

Professor Rebecca Knox sees respiratory therapy as one of health care’s best-kept secrets, but she hopes it doesn’t stay that way. “I’ve been a respiratory therapist for 17 years, and it’s been a phenomenal career for me. It’s been great for balancing my family life with my career,” Knox says.

“It’s not a well-known career, but we really need to be spreading the word. It’s a great option for those wanting to go into health care, but not necessarily nursing. With respiratory therapy, you can come out of school making good money but also making a difference, and that’s important.”

Knox says Rose State students have access to state-of-the-art facilities. “We implement very realistic training scenarios right here in our lab, and we’re constantly seeking new methods to improve our curriculum.”

Clinical experience and job placement

In the second year of the program, Respiratory Therapy students participate in a comprehensive clinical program that sends them to a wide array of facilities, from larger hospitals like INTEGRIS and Mercy, to more specialized locations like OU Children’s Hospital, Oklahoma Heart Hospital and Oklahoma Allergy Clinic.

“They can see what’s best for them by rotating through all of these sites, taking care of heart patients, post-surgery rotations, some adults, some neonatal,” Kathe Rowe explains. “Some of these facilities may have a specific patient population where others might be more diverse in terms of age and condition.”

Rowe says that clinical rotations are essentially prolonged interviews. “The students who present themselves well and show an interest in certain settings will typically get an offer,” she says. Rose State also offers employment assistance through their Student Services Center. The numbers speak for themselves: Rose State Respiratory Therapy grads have a 90.3% positive job placement rate immediately following graduation, and 96.8% successfully pass their entry-level credentialing exams.

Practical Awareness and Total Preparation

Emily Wolfe graduated from the Respiratory Therapy program in 2015 and now works in the intensive care unit at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. She thanks Rose State for not just in-depth knowledge but also practical preparation for working in the field. “I work in the ICU but I see all kinds of patients. Going into this job, I was prepared all the way around. The Respiratory Therapy program made us very aware of what the job would really be like,” Wolfe says. “I’ve worked with graduates from other programs and I’ve noticed that they just aren’t as prepared for what this job actually entails.”

Sarah Geist’s reasons for choosing Respiratory Therapy were extremely personal. “My son was a severe asthmatic,” Geist says. “A few members of my family are nurses – I knew that’s not what I wanted to do, but I definitely belong in health care.” Geist is employed as full-time therapist at OU Medical Center. She credits Rose State’s professors for fully preparing her for life post-graduation.

“They were available day and night for help,” Geist says. “The program itself is designed to ensure your success. While in the program, regular life continues. You have bills and kids and everything to maintain, but with the professors’ help and understanding I was able to be successful in the program.”

What does Geist love most about her new career? “Seeing my patients improve. Bonding with them. Being a part of their healing journey. This field has fulfilled my purpose.”   

Respiratory Therapists help the world breathe easier, and they can balance a family life as they build their careers. To learn more about how Rose State’s Respiratory Therapy degree program could boost your next career move, click here.