Three Characteristics of a Successful ED Therapist

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The pace of work in the respiratory care profession depends a lot on which setting you choose to work in. Where do things move the fastest? Most people would say the emergency department tops the list. Do you have what it takes to work in the ED?

Rena Laliberte, BS, RRT, clinical education/emergency department specialist at Henry Ford Hospital-Detroit in Detroit, MI, has worked in her facility’s Level One ED for 25 years. She was drawn to the area by the critical care of patients and the variety of patients who need care.

“Every patient is different, interesting, and some very tragic,” she said. “In any case, you just learn so much from every single one of them.”

Here are three characteristics she thinks RTs must have to be successful in this setting —

  1. Organized: In a very busy ED, organizational skills are a must. You are often expected to do things on your own due to the circumstance and communicate with providers later. In an emergency, you cannot lose track of what you are doing or why. These are critical minutes for critical patients requiring focus and keeping yourself organized so as not to get lost, thereby wasting time.
  2. Knowledgeable: You have to keep yourself up-to-date on evidence-based practice, hemodynamics, ventilator graphics, ventilator management, and patient assessment. Not knowing what type of patient is coming in, you have to know, and be prepared for, the easy cases and the most challenging. If you have no idea how to ventilate a difficult-to-ventilate patient or what options are available to you on your particular ventilator, you are in trouble, and so is the patient. We cannot care or advocate for these patients if we do not know ourselves. There was no better example of this than the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients came in one after the other, and none of them were the same.
  3. Cool, Calm, and Collected: Managing stress and keeping a cool head is another crucial characteristic of the ED therapist. You may have multiple traumas all occurring at the same time, and you may be pulled in many different directions with no one to help. It is only you. You cannot snap at your team or your patient! You have to prioritize what is most important and then communicate that to the team so you can keep yourself calm and systematically move from one thing to the next. It can be challenging, but eventually, everything is handled calmly and safely.

Think you’re ready to move forward? Laliberte suggests the best way for an RT to break into the ED is to acquire as much experience and expertise as possible. Working in critical care for at least a year, keeping up with your reading and research after graduation, and showing your enthusiasm for the setting and your ability to handle stress will all be key. Lastly, you must be a team player.

“Everyone in our ED has their role individually,” she said. “But it is when we all come together as a team that patient outcomes improve.”