Texas State respiratory care students joining the front lines against pandemic
Ascension Seton Williamson medical center in Round Rock has hired 10 seniors from Texas State University’s respiratory care program to help shore up a personnel shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Respiratory Care, part of the College of Health Professions at Texas State’s Round Rock Campus, previously loaned four ventilators to Ascension Seton Williamson to help treat patients afflicted with the coronavirus.
“Ascension Seton Williamson is facing a manpower shortage because of COVID-19. Their director, David Garza, had 10 respiratory therapy assistant (RTA) positions open, and asked if we had some senior respiratory therapy seniors he could hire,” said Gregg Marshall, chair of the Department of Respiratory Care. “We had about 32 seniors who were interested, and 10 of those 32 were offered RTA positions. They’re all outstanding students, I’m telling you. They are all like the A-Team. All of these students have 4.0 grade averages, they’re unbelievable. David won’t want to let them go when this is over.”
The 10 seniors begin as RTAs immediately, while continuing their respiratory program course work. The positions are considered outside employment and not part of their formal education, although the students will gain valuable experience in the profession they’ll be entering in a matter of months.
“The students won’t be in the intensive care unit (ICU), and won’t be working with COVID patients,” Marshall said. “They’re going to be backup for general floor therapy and less acute patients. They’ll be taking care of the folks in the hospital who are having non-critical respiratory problems. That allows David to shift his experienced staff to the ICUs. That’s the big help here, it gets his staff off the floor therapy and into the ICUs where they have skill and are approved to be, while our guys take up the therapy that needs to be done on the general medical and surgical floors.”
That will, in limited fashion, help alleviate the shortage of respiratory therapists needed to treat COVID-19 patients, but more help is on the way. On April 5, Governor Greg Abbott temporarily waived some requirements for respiratory therapy graduates to be licensed prior to joining the healthcare workforce. This will enable approximately 800 respiratory therapists graduating from all the different programs in Texas in May to immediately begin work during the pandemic.
“Basically, the governor has done is exactly what we asked—he is allowing our graduates to immediately go to work before sitting for their board exams. He has waived the need for a state license for them because they’re new graduates,” Marshall said. “They could literally walk across the stage—if we were still walking across the stage for graduation—right into an ICU and work.
“This is huge, because that takes a 30-45 day wait after graduation away, so that the graduate can immediately go to work,” he said. “When things calm down, then they’ll go back and take their board exams to get their license. The requirement is still there, it’s just deferred.”