In 1982, nearly 40 years after the first group of Inhalation Therapists (now known as Respiratory Therapists) started working, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation dedicating National Respiratory Care Week. Today Respiratory Care Week is held the last full week in October.
Caring for a President
How was it that respiratory therapists happened to get onto President Reagan’s radar? Well unfortunately in 1981, President Reagan was shot and rushed to George Washington University Hospital where he underwent left lung surgery for a gunshot wound. Among other healthcare workers, respiratory therapists played a key role in his recovery. A year later he proclaimed Respiratory Care Week and leaders in Respiratory were invited to the signing at the White House.
What is Respiratory Care?
Respiratory care is the health care discipline that specializes in the promotion of optimal cardiopulmonary function, health, and wellness. Respiratory therapists diagnose, manage and work to control illnesses affecting the lungs. They can branch off into many areas within our field from inpatient care managing vents, intubations, breathing treatments, secretion management, pulmonary hygiene, etc., to outpatient care which involves home oxygen, home Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) set up and management, as well as sleep disorders. Respiratory care also extends to long-term care facilities for vent management, weaning, and tracheostomy care.
Visibility and Responsibility
Respiratory Care Week is a great opportunity to let our community know more about who we are and what we do for our Veterans. Respiratory therapy is not a well-known or well understood occupation and unless you work in a hospital or have ever needed a respiratory therapist, people usual have never heard of it. A respiratory professional has a minimum of an associate degree of applied science in respiratory care but can also obtain a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. The therapist must also sit for a certification and registration exam and once passed, the therapist will then have the title of Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and most states also require that an RRT apply for state licensure.
Respiratory therapists played a critical role during the pandemic and continue to do so throughout the world. Currently there are over 131,000 respiratory therapists employed in the United States alone. This week is a great time to celebrate our respiratory therapists, bring awareness to our profession and inspire growth in respiratory care.