Respiratory therapist holding a mask over a patients face

Specialty Spotlight: Respiratory Therapists Are in Demand

Well-deserved attention has fallen on healthcare workers' heroic efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, including respiratory therapists (RTs), who help patients battle for breath on the pandemic frontlines.

COVID has not only brought these essential workers into the spotlight but has also revealed that respiratory therapy is in demand, and travel respiratory therapy is a growing field.

"The demand is high for RTs for a variety of reasons," said American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) President Sheri Tooley, BSRT, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, CPFT, FAARC. "The obvious reason is COVID. It is the respiratory therapist who is on the front lines in the care of these patients. As the hospital census of COVID patients grows during the pandemic, the human resources of RTs have been taxed. Also, there are a large number of RTs who are baby boomers, and many have or are about to retire in the coming years."

COVID has taxed the pool of RTs, Tooley said. The first wave of cases revealed concern for an insufficient number of ventilators. But now, with a better understanding of managing critically ill COVID patients, fewer of them require mechanical ventilation. The more significant issue now is making sure there are enough respiratory therapists, especially in hot spots across the country, she reported.

Browse Respiratory Travel Jobs

These COVID hot spots are where Tooley said respiratory therapists are in demand. Tooley saw this in New York during the spring and summer of 2020. Today, she sees traveling RTs making a difference in the upper Midwest and rural areas, as well.

Other reasons respiratory therapists are in demand include:

  • The prevalence of chronic respiratory disease
  • New technologies that help treat more patients
  • The popularity of in-home care
  • Respiratory schools are only at approximately 60 capacity

Recruiting Respiratory Therapists

According to Mason Stebbins, senior director of recruitment for AMN, there are currently pressing needs for respiratory therapists in Texas, Florida and California.

"Not only do we need traveling RTs in Texas, Florida, and California because they are the most populated states, but also because of the large number of exclusive contracts we have with various health systems in those states."

Since this time last year, Stebbins said that the number of requests for respiratory therapists has seen a 200 percent increase, leading the AMN recruiting team to triple their efforts to recruit more respiratory therapists.

Tooley said the AARC saw a considerable increase in respiratory therapist jobs being recruited in the spring, which dissipated from July to September. However, that demand surged significantly in October and November, with large bonuses being offered across the country. 

"Obviously, this seems to track with COVID," Tooley said.

Regarding the overall growth of respiratory therapy, Tooley said it's a supply and demand issue. 

"The bottom line is that we need more RTs in the workforce," she said. "The future of the nation's healthcare requires competent clinicians. Couple that with people living longer and with chronic pulmonary conditions (asthma/COPD) and there will continue to be the need."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RT employment rates are rising much faster than the national average of all other occupations. The demand for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by 19 percent between 2019 and 2029. 

AMN Healthcare has openings for respiratory therapists and other allied healthcare professionals across the country.

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