The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the value of respiratory therapists in treating patients with severe lung issues, but there is a shortage of these healthcare professionals.
One Atlanta hospital system, Wellstar Health System, has teamed up with Georgia State University to help close this gap with a new workforce development agreement. Wellstar respiratory therapy (RT) employees assigned to work with RT students in clinical internships are also hired as adjunct Georgia State faculty, fulfilling the requirement that only Georgia State instructors teach the RT students.
Students in groups of six work with one Wellstar/Georgia State instructor, who stays with the students all semester. In Fall 2021, two Wellstar hospitals participated, Kennestone and Cobb, each hosting six students.
The model promotes consistency for the students using the same clinical instructor versus the traditional model of pairing off students with different preceptors (usually to accommodate the hospital’s constantly changing staff schedule). The students also observe the hospital culture, encouraging them to consider Wellstar for employment after graduation.
“The new agreement and clinical model gives the student more opportunity to be hired following graduation as staff registered respiratory therapists,” said Dr. Doug Gardenhire, chair of the Department of Respiratory Therapy in Georgia State’s Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions. “And the students have been trained in the hospital’s culture, too!”
Integrated graduate respiratory therapy student Justin Jarrells is one of the dozen students participating in the Wellstar clinical experiment.
“Kennestone has been a really good experience for me,” he said. “We work as a group of three [students] at a time with two patients, doing assessments, giving treatments and getting hands-on experience with the ventilators.”
When the students aren’t part of the hands-on trio, Jarrells says they talk with professionals in other disciplines and ask doctors and nurses questions.
“This interaction is a good way to familiarize yourself with how to communicate with other health professionals,” said Jarrells. A former exercise physiologist at Northside Hospital – Atlanta, Jarrells was comfortable working in the hospital setting, but he recognizes that many of his classmates were not.
“Leslie, our preceptor, does a good job of moving us through Kennestone’s many different units, including cardiology, neurology,” said Jarrells. He thinks this rotation exposes them to all types of patients needing RT care. Jarrells also said that despite what the news media reports, there are plenty of non-COVID patients in acute care, and the RT students get the opportunity to learn a wide range of illnesses and conditions.
Following graduation in Spring 2022, Jarrells hopes to fill one of the 100 plus open respiratory therapy positions at Wellstar.
“It’s been a really good experience, and I’m hoping to work at Kennestone. I see lots of opportunities there.”
— written by Angela Go