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October 31, 2006 > Respiratory Care Professionals: Helping You Breathe Better

Respiratory Care Professionals: Helping You Breathe Better

Respiratory Care Week Marks 20th Anniversary

by Washington Hospital

NOTE: Word count: 834; PROJECT: Respiratory Care Week article FOR: Washington Hospital Tri-City Voice advertorial STATUS: Draft #4 DATE: 10/16/06; Oct. 24 issue Respiratory Care Professionals: Helping You Breathe Better Respiratory Care Week Marks 20th Anniversary On average, you do it 10 to 20 times per minute without even thinking about it – breathe, that is. For most of us, breathing is the most common and least thought of action we take each day. But think about what life would be like if you had to struggle for each breath or for some reason could not breathe on your own.

Respiratory Care Week – observed the last week in October – is the time of year to recognize the positive influence respiratory therapy has had on lung health, as well as honor individual accomplishments of respiratory therapists throughout the world, according to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC).

According to AARC, the respiratory care profession was originally recognized on a national scale in 1982, with the official recognition of Respiratory Therapy Week by President Ronald Reagan. Then in 1986, the American Association for Respiratory Therapy (AART) became AARC and RT Week became National Respiratory Care Week – now better known as RC Week. Since then, the national event in honor of respiratory care professionals has steadily grown to reach all 50 states in the United States and beyond.

While it has been nationally recognized for the past two decades, the respiratory care profession has actually been evolving for the last half a century, according to Kent Joraanstad, director of respiratory care at Washington Hospital.

“The purpose of this week is to recognize the respiratory care professionals and also to do some education for the hospital staff and the community,” Joraanstad says.

The profession has grown tremendously during the last two decades and now there are more than 100,000 respiratory care professionals nationwide.

Helping others

“Many of our patients are on life support systems, often sedated or unable to communicate because they’re on a breathing tube,” Joraanstad explains. “We help manage the life support settings in neonatal and adult settings. We’re part of code teams and rapid response teams; we take care of patients who are critically ill. We are part of the first-line in the ER. We are often in the place where the patients are the sickest.”

And what many people don’t realize, he adds, is that certain respiratory conditions can be very dangerous, even fatal – including asthma.

Respiratory care professionals help treat patients with obstructive lung disorders, in which patients have difficulty expelling air, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma, as well as restrictive lung disorders, in which patients have difficulty getting air into the lungs. Restrictive lung disorders, such as pulmonary fibrosis, many times occur in people who have worked with different kinds of construction products, including asbestos.

A rewarding profession

Joraanstad is the first to admit that the profession can be stressful, but having had so many opportunities in the field, he says it also has its rewards.

“The average age of respiratory care practitioners in California is almost 49 years old,” he says. “The need for the next generation of professionals is growing. The job opportunities are very good, especially for people who are strong in math and science and want to get into a helping profession. It’s a rewarding career because you’re taking care of people.”

Joraanstad points out that many local community colleges offer respiratory therapy degree programs, including Ohlone College, whose program has more than doubled in the last several years.

“In the future, I think there will be an increased need for the profession,” he says. “It just seems that asthma continues to affect more people. And people continue to smoke, so we will continue to see pulmonary disease. Babies are born premature. There will always be trauma and accident victims who need the help of respiratory therapists. And hopefully, the technology will continue to develop so we’ll have better ways to treat these patients.”

With an advanced degree, respiratory care professionals can advance to supervisory and management positions, become educators in academic settings, specialize in neonatal or pediatric care in children’s hospitals, participate in heart and lung transplants, work in at-home care and perform clinical research, according to Joraanstad.

Breathe better today

Washington Hospital offers a comprehensive Pulmonary Rehabilitation program for patients who suffer from shortness of breath and may have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or other respiratory diseases. Participation requires a physician referral. For more information, call (510) 494-7025.

To learn more about services and programs available at Washington Hospital, visit and click on “Services & Programs” or tune into InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel, on Comcast Channel 78.

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