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Monday August 15, 2022

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Respiratory Therapists in Demand Following COVID
August 1, 2022

Respiratory therapists moved to the forefront of health care services during the pandemic. Now, these practitioners are in short supply both locally and nationally. To meet this need, Walters State has extended the application period for its respiratory care program until Aug. 12. 
“The need for respiratory therapists is critical,” Sara Smith, director of the respiratory care program at Walters State Community College, said. “Respiratory therapists are in high demand now due to a combination of factors. Aging baby boomers have increased the need of respiratory care. At the same, some health care practitioners have left the profession due to trauma related to COVID.” 
Katie Fillers, like many people, didn’t know what a respiratory therapist does and did not consider it as a career choice. She enrolled in Walters State with plans to become a nurse like her mother. Then, a friend told her more about respiratory care. After a day spent job shadowing a respiratory therapist, she changed her major and graduated in 2021 with an associate of applied science degree in respiratory care.

“Many people think that respiratory therapists give breathing treatments,” Fillers said. 

“We do that, and we also do so much more. As a respiratory therapist, you’re in the emergency room when a cardiac emergency comes in or when someone’s breathing has been impacted by an accident. You play a key role in the recovery of patients in need of critical care. You may assist a patient in surgery.”

Fillers entered the field at what many may consider a bad time – the height of the pandemic when many COVID-19 patients found breathing difficult. Fillers said that the intense training and experience made her a better caregiver.

“Working through COVID was definitely challenging, and there were several unfortunate losses, but I can remember one special patient that did recover. She eventually was able to speak again. She was so grateful to us for the role we played in her recovery. We both celebrated together as it felt like a win for the both of us,” said Fillers.
The U.S. Occupational Handbook predicts that the country will need over 10,000 new respiratory care therapists annually in the coming years. Walters State’s graduates have a 100% job placement rate and a 100% pass rate on the National Board for Respiratory Care exam to become respiratory therapists. Smith said graduates can expect to make at around $40,000 in their first year. That does not include overtime, shift differentials and other factors that increase pay. 
For more information on Walters State’s Respiratory Care Program, contact Smith at 423-798-7964 or Sara.Smith@ws.edu. You can also visit www.ws.edu/academics/health/respiratory-care.

Requirements to enter the program are similar to the requirements of other allied health programs including nursing and physical therapist assistant. Students with those prerequisites can apply for this fall's program.

In the photo: Katie Fillers graduated from Walters State Respiratory Care Program in 2021 and now works as respiratory therapist. Fillers said entering the field during the pandemic gave her the opportunity to put her skills into practice immediately.