Respiratory Care

Respiratory Care Program Helping Patients Breathe Easier

Although the general public is more familiar with doctors and nurses, anyone who’s had a serious hospital visit or surgery has probably had contact with a respiratory therapist at some point.

These respiratory experts are important members of the health care team, and are involved in saving and improving the quality of people’s lives on a daily basis. Respiratory therapists are experts in life support equipment, and work closely with doctors and other health care staff to treat heart and lung diseases like emphysema, asthma and more.

“As respiratory therapists, we work with physicians and nurses, and a lot of times, we all have to come together to create the best plan for the patient,” says Ann Allen, program coordinator for Piedmont Technical College’s respiratory care program. “We’re right there with social services and the home health nurses trying to decide what’s going to be the best plan of care for these patients when they go home.”

Respiratory therapists can work in a wide variety of settings, from rehabilitation clinics and sleep labs to trauma centers and hospitals. They provide treatment for all age groups—from infants to the elderly, and are involved in everything from rehabilitation to smoking-cessation, disease prevention, case management and the diagnosis of breathing disorders.

“We spend a lot of our time not just taking care of the patient, but also teaching them about their disease,” Allen says. “It’s a part of our responsibility to educate patients on their medications and how to return to a normal life.”

The program at PTC is a two year program that starts classes each fall. Students are in clinical training each semester and a special internship in the final semester.

In class, students get in-depth, hands-on training with ventilators, obtaining blood gasses, patient interaction and more. When students actually get into the hospital, they see that what they’re learning in class is directly applicable in the real world.

“One of the great things about our program is that we get the students in clinicals the very first semester,” says Allen.

After basic lab training, during the first half of the semester, students start working in the hospital about one day a week. The program coordinators work directly with health care providers all over the region to ensure that students get a wide range of clinical experience in hospitals of varying sizes, in home health care, and in other areas. This connection is opening doors for the graduates.

“I find that the students coming out of Piedmont Tech are extremely well prepared and ready to take on a role as a respiratory therapist,” said Sherry Gordon, director of respiratory therapy at Self Regional Healthcare. “I think what makes the students at Piedmont Tech very unique and special is that they spend a lot of time in clinicals. They are here getting that hands-on training and that is the best way for them to learn.”

Recent PTC grads earn an entry level salary of about $38,000, with good potential for growth—up to around $60,000 in this region. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for respiratory therapists is projected to increase faster than average through 2020, or about 28 percent nationally.

Respiratory therapists need at least an associate degree. To become a respiratory therapist, there are several levels of required testing at the national level. PTC graduates are prepared to take both the entry-level and advanced National Board exams. Graduates are also certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and Neonatal Resuscitation Provider, credentials that make them more marketable.

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Photo Caption: The respiratory care program at Piedmont Technical College is a two year program that starts classes each fall. Respiratory therapists can work in a wide variety of settings, from rehabilitation clinics and sleep labs to trauma centers and hospitals. Graduates Heather Hancock of Greenwood, left, and Lanedra Brown of Moore practice their skills in the lab.