Respiratory Therapy students at Fanshawe College called to front lines of pandemic
The body that regulates respiratory therapists in Ontario says they’re needed now
They haven't quite graduated yet, but students in the third and final year of the Respiratory Therapy program at Fanshawe College in London are heading straight to the front lines of the pandemic crisis.
The 43 students were just a month from graduating when the body that regulates respiratory therapists in the province – the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario – asked schools, like Fanshawe, to let them leave early.
Respiratory therapists are in high demand, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Shortages have been identified at many hospitals.
As professor Julie Brown, the head of Fanshawe's program, put it: "We are the specialists who look after those ventilators – or life support systems – and know exactly what to change and what to do to keep the patients alive."
She has plenty of confidence in her students, who spent the first two years of the program in the classroom. For the last nine months they've been doing hands-on work in clinical settings, where they perform independently and find out what it's like to do the actual job.
"For most of them, they have all their skills. It's just putting in a little bit more time to sort of perfect everything."
But she told all of her third-year students they had to get out into the field now because they're sorely needed.
Brown said some of them were a bit hesitant, at first.
"A lot of them did express that they're nervous, they're scared, but that they're excited and they're happy to help."
Brown admitted she, too, is a bit nervous.
"I feel a bit like a mama bear sending her kids out, but it's unknown times right now, you know."
She said the students will finish their courses online for the next month while working.
Brown told the students that the faculty have taught them everything they need to know, including how to stay safe. But she warned them during a last-minute chat to be careful.
"You have to really protect yourself, and you have to make sure that you're wearing the appropriate equipment, and that you're not going into difficult situations."
Brown said respiratory therapists are expected to deal with "horrible situations," such as withdrawing life support, tending to patients who have been seriously injured in serious motor vehicle collision, or dying children.
The students have been trained in simulations on how to deal with situations of that nature. But a pandemic, she said, "that's different."
She told them it's fine to be nervous because every respiratory therapist in the country is feeling apprehensive right now.
Brown also advised them not to be totally consumed by the job.
"Sometimes that's hard for new students to be able to do. They just want to work as much as possible and make as much money as possible."
But she urged them not to feel compelled to always work overtime, to have the confidence to tell the boss: "I need some time for me."