The field of respiratory therapy has become better-known due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students from other majors are finding their way to the profession.
Respiratory therapy (RT) is a specialty that focuses on lung and heart health, and new professionals can enter with degrees from the bachelor’s or master’s levels. A group of exercise science/kinesiology undergraduates found that the RT integrated master’s program a perfect fit following their study of human anatomy.
The RT Class of 2021 boasts four kinesiology graduates, three from Georgia State University and all eager to make a difference in this critical care profession.
Like many exercise science majors, Olyvia Branch was a high school athlete, playing volleyball and heading for a different healthcare field.
“I was originally a nursing major, like many freshmen,” Branch said. Switching to exercise science kept her in the anatomy and physiology classes, but it wasn’t until an RT major visited her class, Branch found her career path.
“The RT student sparked my interest with her joy for the GSU program. I researched the field and decided RT was for me.”
Juliana Cartwright was also a high school athlete who found RT through the same student as Branch. Captain of the high school swim team, Cartwright was dedicated to health and leadership.
“I wanted to share fitness with others,” she said. Like Branch, she found RT through another college student.
“I liked cardiac rehab in my undergraduate major and found the overlap in respiratory therapy and cardiac rehab. I love anatomy and how the body works,” said Cartwright.
Both Branch and Cartwright appreciate the efforts of the RT faculty to lead them to their new careers. As beginning RTs, they will be much in demand as Atlanta hospitals have more than 200 openings and travel RTs can command as much as $100 per hour for their work.
“Dr. [Doug] Gardenhire really worked with us [exercise science students] to advocate for our admission,” said Branch. “The smooth transition made a difference to us as we entered the [RT] program.”
Cartwright appreciated the real-world experiences of the RT faculty.
“I like hearing what professors say about their experiences in clinical. It’s cool to see how the relationships change as graduates get ready to become peers,” she said. She also notes how the students have experiences to share with the faculty.
“You have experienced a pandemic [in the hospitals] that we haven’t,” said Brent Murray, clinical assistant professor.
Early in the pandemic, RT students were shut out of in-person clinicals as hospitals struggled to care for sick COVID patients and find scarce protective equipment. However, by Fall 2020, the students were back on-site in many hospitals, gaining significant experience.
“As RT students, we needed to learn how to care for COVID patients during this pandemic,” said Branch. Cartwright agrees and appreciates that the department fought for the students’ clinical education.
“[Dr. Gardenhire] really stuck his neck out to keep the clinical experience as normal as possible to get us to graduate on time,” she said.
Branch and Cartwright graduate in May and are eager to get into the field. Both have long-term plans to work as a flight RT, helping transport critical patients. Branch will begin work at Emory Midtown, and Cartwright has accepted a night shift RT position at Piedmont Hospital. For other students considering a major in RT, Cartwright suggested not to let COVID scare them away.
“It’s an honor to be a participant in the battle against COVID.”
– Written by Angela Go (photos courtesy of Olyvia Branch and Juliana Cartwright)