National Respiratory Care Week Turns 40

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The AARC is celebrating 75 years this year, but it isn’t the only one marking a major milestone in 2022. National Respiratory Care Week will be 40 this fall! First celebrated in 1982, the week serves as the best time all year long for RTs to come together to let the world know about the value they add to the health care system.

An act of Congress

Most people in the profession today can’t remember a time when the last week in October wasn’t set aside to honor the nation’s respiratory therapists. But for the first 35 years that the AARC was in operation, no such week existed. There were weeks to honor other health care professionals, but not RTs.

AARC leaders had long wanted to devote a week to celebrating respiratory therapists, but they didn’t want to just self-proclaim a week. They wanted it to be official, and they wanted the U.S. Congress to make it so.

How was a small but growing profession going to capture the attention of the nation’s legislators? The AARC marshalled the forces, of course, asking all of their members to write to their elected officials asking them to support the proclamation. Members did just that, flooding their members of Congress with the request.

It was no easy task, because getting an official proclamation from Congress requires two-thirds of the legislators to sign off on it. But the perseverance of AARC members paid off. By mid-year, the AARC had the stamp of approval it needed to begin planning activities for the first ever National Respiratory Care Week in the fall.

On to the Oval Office

That would have been accomplishment enough, but a tragic incident from the previous year ended up putting icing on the cake.

On March 20, 1981, President Ronald Reagan had just finished addressing a crowd at a labor meeting a Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, when a man standing among a group of reporters fired six shots, hitting not just the President but also his press secretary James Brady, a secret serviceman, and a DC policeman.

Scott DabbenePresident Reagan proclaimed the first “National Respiratory Therapy Week” in 1982.

President Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where he would undergo surgery for a gunshot wound to his left lung.

Respiratory therapists were key members of his care team, and the President thanked them, along with all the other health care professionals who took care of him during his stay, when he left the hospital.

A year later, he remembered them too. When the RC Week proclamation was finally approved, the President invited AARC leaders to the White House for an in-person signing.

The delegation included AARC Executive Director Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC, President John Walton, MBA, RRT, FAARC, President-elect Glen Gee, RRT, FAARC, BOMA Chair Jim Baker, MD, and two children — Gee’s eight-year-old son Casey, who was there to represent kids with asthma, and a five-year-old ventilator-dependent boy named John Magbie. John’s RT, Dean Sterling, RRT, came along to watch over him during the visit as well.

#RCWEEK22

So as you celebrate the 40th anniversary of RC Week this October, remember how it all came about, and how the care a president received from therapists figured into a special signing in the Oval Office.

Looking for ways to mark the occasion? Check out our Respiratory Care Week resources and put them to work in your celebrations. Then be sure to share your activities with the AARC, and on social media using the hashtag #RCWEEK22!

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