Respiratory Therapists Are Needed in More Roles

Respiratory Care Week

Respiratory Care Week 2021: New Responsibilities for In-Demand Role

“We all had to adapt to the fact that things were only getting worse, not better, and that we were feeling more and more helpless when it came to caring for our patients. We all have taken a second look at what matters most these days.”

Respiratory therapists are needed more than ever before.

That’s why RTs are being honored during Respiratory Care Week, celebrated Oct. 24-30, not just for their vital healthcare role but for the resilience, strength, and hope they display in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As about 10,000 people turn 65 in the U.S. every day — baby boomers who increasingly need respiratory care — the demand for the skills that respiratory therapists provide only grows. Long-term acute care hospitals also have driven the demand. At the same time, current RTs are reaching retirement age.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook expects the number of RTs to increase 23 percent by 2029, much faster than the 8 percent average for all occupations. That’s up 4 percent just from last year’s data.

With the projected growth in the market for respiratory therapists comes new responsibilities. Not only will RTs help with treatment but also with prevention efforts.

For instance, as the number of baby boomers grows and the rate of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) rises, RTs are taking on new roles as COPD navigators, helping patients who get caught up in a cycle of trips to the hospital and back home. The RT’s job is to provide more preventative care and interventions to help patients better manage their own care at home and avoid repeat hospital visits.

Looking ahead, demand for RTs also will come from doctors’ offices and nursing homes, where the goal will include helping keep pneumonia, COPD and other disorders that damage lungs or restrict lung function in check.

RTs, like many others in healthcare, have found themselves feeling overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and their new responsibilities, with 79 percent of RTs who responded to a recent national survey reporting some degree of burnout. Of those, 10 percent characterized the burnout as severe.

Many have found themselves handling more patients at a time, working longer days and more shifts, and being the emotional surrogates for the family that patients can’t have by their bedside, according to a recent post in Penn Medicine News.

“We all had to adapt to the fact that things were only getting worse, not better, and that we were feeling more and more helpless when it came to caring for our patients,” Jackie Williams, BS, RRT, a therapist at Salem Health, Hospitals & Clinics in Salem, Oregon, said in a recent post for the American Association for Respiratory Care, (AARC). “We all have taken a second look at what matters most these days.”

For some, that meant dropping back to part time or making other changes to accommodate family needs. The AARC and other associations offer many resources to help RTs who may be struggling with stress.

Learn more about ways RTs can counter stress and burnout:

Battling Burnout in RT - AARC

Stress, Burnout, and Resilience among Healthcare Workers during the COVID-19 Emergency: The Role of Defense Mechanisms - PubMed (

Burnout and Joy in the Profession of Critical Care Medicine | Critical Care | Full Text (

Interested in being an RT? Click here.


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