Our Wheelhouse: COVID-19 and the Respiratory Therapist


By Rachel Clevenger, RRT, ECG, CTP

The runaway train that embodies the COVID-19 virus has mowed over the agendas of this globe. Although the disease itself was nearly unknown six months prior to this date, new cases continue to mount, and more business is being suspended every day due to extended quarantine mandates. But as hospitals scramble for resources working with a fervor to maintain a brave face for the public, there is one profession that has yet to fall victim to the tangible panic – because we won’t.

Meet Respiratory Therapy. And COVID-19 is our wheelhouse.

Panic is not a word in our vocabulary because we are always in a state of hypervigilance. On the code blue teams and in emergency departments, we are always the coolest head in the room. Respiratory therapists treat every age group with pulmonary issues while living half our working lives inside negative pressure rooms (tuberculosis, anyone?). Although the name and blueprint of this virus may be newly discovered to medicine, disease management is a very old and familiar one to our ears.

Need ventilator set up and management? Page the respiratory therapist.

Intubation and aerosol therapy? Find the respiratory therapist.

Negative pressure room with airborne precautions? Where is our respiratory therapist?

Isolation precautions? Find respiratory.

Lung expansion therapy? Respiratory.

Nebulizer treatments and MDIs? Call the RT.

CPAP and BIPAP orders? Where is the RT?

Weaning and extubation orders? Respiratory.

While countless healthcare workers and public leaders flounder over PPE and N95 masks, respiratory therapists are making the daily trek to work. We are arriving early at our facilities to be temperature checked before receiving our daily assignment. COVID-19 is a designated respiratory virus, and this places the treatment protocol well within the scope of our training. While the virus is new to us, the diligence and dedication to patient care are unchanged for our profession. The world may indeed be on pins and needles, but respiratory therapists have been ready for this pandemic since we received our licenses.

Make no mistake; our position is not one of arrogance and pride, but rather one of confident dignity. We know that regardless of the COVID-19 fallout, we will continue to treat these respiratory cases as we do with every patient under our care; to the best of our ability.

And as we pull on our PPE and introduce ourselves to the new patient inside the negative pressure room, we remember with respect that our skill set is meant to complement the rest of our hospital’s team. But it is certainly a time to shine for the profession, and we toe the line to the ventilators.

It is what we do best.

Rachel Clevenger, RRT, ECG, CTP is a respiratory therapist at Houston Methodist Hospital. She is a frequent blogger and passionate about lung health. Visit her website lunghelp.net to learn more about her efforts to create a Vaping Lung Injury Specialist (RRT/VLI-S) certification. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Houston Methodist Hospital.

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