DMACC Respiratory Therapy Students Learn How to Operate Ventilators Critical During a Pandemic

Posted 6/4/2020
  • Respiratory therapists know how to operate ventilators needed to help patients breathe, which is especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Students in the DMACC Respiratory Therapy Program get more than 1,000 hours of clinic experience in various settings to prepare them for their careers.

  • Ten DMACC Respiratory Therapy Students are set to graduate in August and will find jobs quickly based on the booming job market for respiratory therapists and a 100 percent placement rate for DMACC Respiratory Therapy graduates in recent years.

Ten DMACC Respiratory Therapy students will be graduating at the end of the summer term and will quickly begin operating ventilators in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These respiratory therapists are trained on how to use the two types of mechanical ventilation — invasive and noninvasive. Invasive ventilation is given via an artificial airway such as an endotracheal tube or tracheostomy. Non-invasive ventilation is given via a mask.

“Both are very helpful and many times non-invasive ventilation is attempted first and if the patient does not respond to that treatment, the patient may be intubated and start receiving invasive ventilation," said DMACC Respiratory Therapy Associate Professor Amy Boeckmann.

Boeckmann said ventilators for both non-invasive and invasive ventilation are readily available in Iowa and used on a regular basis, but not all hospitals have the resources to maintain patients requiring mechanical ventilation for long periods of time, so those patients may be transferred to larger hospitals.   

The DMACC Respiratory Therapy program is a six-semester long program where students spent three of their five clinic rotations in critical care of adults, neonatal or pediatric patients. The students graduate with 1,080 hours of clinic experience in a hospital. Upon graduation, the students must successfully pass a board exam to become obtain a license.

Boeckmann said the curriculum content involves learning the actual ventilator, but, more importantly, how that machine interacts with the patient.

She said mechanical ventilation is very complex. Ventilators increase oxygenation and remove carbon dioxide when a patient's body is unable to do so. Although that sounds simple, the various ways this can be done is very complex.

“Mechanical ventilators control how a patient gets a breath, how many times the patient gets a breath, how long the patient inhales, how long the patient exhales, how fast the breath is given, controls pressure left in the lung after an exhalation and the volume of each breath," Boeckmann said. “It also measures several parameters that provide feedback to the practitioner to optimize settings and maintain or improve a patient's condition."

She said arterial blood gas results provide useful information in knowing if oxygenation is adequate and carbon dioxide is being removed.

“Mechanical ventilation is individualized. There are many modes and settings and those should be chosen to best treat each patient," Boeckmann said. “One mode or selection of settings does not work for all patients. DMACC is very fortunate to have training in a classroom, lab, simulation center and supervised practicum with patients in a hospital."

Second-year graduating DMACC Respiratory Therapy Program student Khagen Bhattarai is originally from Nepal and now lives in Des Moines. He said the clinical rotations DMACC requires gives all of the respiratory therapy students an opportunity to see the different areas where they can work in this profession. 

“DMACC gives us an opportunity to perform clinical rotations at a variety of patient care areas like critical care, the neonatal intensive care unit, adult area, and in other specialty places like a sleep lab, a pulmonary function lab or at Child Serve," Bhattarai said.

DMACC Respiratory Therapy student Brianna Davis of Coon Rapids will graduate in August. She said DMACC has prepared the RT students to take all of the precautions needed for entering the profession in the middle of a pandemic.

“I am excited and eager to get out into our profession and bring people to better health," Davis said. “I think entering this profession in the middle of a pandemic will help give us an extra 'push' as we will have this experience to reflect back on."

Davis, like the other DMACC graduating Respiratory Therapy students, is excited about the job prospects, especially since 100 percent of recent DMACC RT graduates have readily found employment in the profession.   

Kristina Spear of Story City is another student who will graduate from DMACC's Respiratory Therapy program in a few short months.

“I currently am employed at Mercy One Des Moines as a respiratory care tech and have been working with COVID-19 patients for months now," Spear said. “I was scared at first, but now I feel completely comfortable working with critical patients and keeping them breathing."

All Respiratory Therapy programs are accredited by The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). This requires programs to have very strict guidelines to graduate from a Respiratory Therapy program.

According to Boeckmann, respiratory therapists typically work under the guidance of a physician. She said nurses are allowed to change the oxygen level on the machine and all other changes or interaction with the machine is safest in the hand of a respiratory therapist due to the extensive training they receive on the machines themselves.

“We are more than a breathing treatment giver. We are an advanced mechanical ventilator worker," Davis said. “We work alongside a physician at the head of the bed during any code or trauma. We are coaches to our patients."

Boeckmann said with the job market booming for respiratory therapists in Iowa, this new set of DMACC grads should have no problem finding employment in their chosen careers. The field of respiratory therapy is in high demand and the numbers entering the workforce do not meet the demand, nationally.   

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in 2019 for a respiratory therapist was $61,330 per year. The next DMACC Respiratory Therapy P​rogram starts in the Fall on the DMACC Ankeny Campus. For more information, click here.    


For more information, contact: Amy Boeckmann (515) 964-6378​

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