Deep Dive | Life of a Travel RT

 Published: May 11, 2021

By: Addie Schiefer

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The pandemic has brought the respiratory therapy profession to the spotlight. The pandemic has also brought the attention to a subgroup of respiratory therapists – travel RTs. This subgroup grew once the pandemic hit, with many RTs travelling to COVID-19 hot spots. Travelers have been a necessity for many hospitals during the pandemic — as most RTs are aware, there was, and continues to be a great need for RT skills and expertise.

We wanted to learn more about what exactly life is like as a travel RT, so we reached out to AARC member Robynn Brannen, RRT, RRT-ACCS, to discuss her experience. Robynn is currently on her fourth assignment in Connecticut and has been a travel RT for two years, focusing on the New England region. She considers herself a “fairly new RT,” — she graduated in 2011 but didn’t work in a hospital setting until 2015. Prior to that, she worked in sleep studies.

A unique RT

“A travel RT is a unique creature,” she said. “One of my bosses refers to us as the ‘firemen’ of respiratory therapy.” Travel RTs don’t usually have a full-time, permanent job – instead, they travel all over the United States on different assignments. They work in almost any setting you can imagine – from tiny, remote critical access hospitals, to urban teaching hospitals, LTACS, and PFT labs.

“Most experienced travel RTs are licensed in more than one state,” she said. “They have worked in a variety of hospitals, and with every patient population imaginable.” Travel RTs also receive the unique opportunity to have hands-on experience with many ventilator models, electronic medical record systems, and protocols.

The pros and cons

Robynn shared with us her personal list of pros and cons when it comes to being a travel RT.

Pros –

  • You meet amazing people! You get to visit parts of the country and really immerse yourself in the experiences – the people, natural beauty, culture, and atmosphere.
  • You will learn something new and different every single day.
  • You rarely feel like you didn’t or couldn’t help. Most RT departments are grateful that you’ve arrived and can remove some of the burden.
  • Often, health insurance applies on the first day of the assignment and you’re well paid.
  • You have an HR team who is invested in your success.
  • It’s a flexible lifestyle. You can work as much or as little as you want, and you can work where you want.

“For me, it has worked well to stick to regional assignments,” she said. “I am looking forward, however, to some midwestern assignments, once I have grandchildren.”

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Cons –

  • If you’re a full-time traveler you can feel isolated and distant from loved ones.
  • Traveling with pets can be a bit tricky and you may have to do some careful reconnaissance.
  • Some people don’t enjoy flying or driving to new assignments.
  • Some regular staff members aren’t fans of travelers.
  • Expectations can be higher for experienced travelers – we don’t get a lot of orientation, and departments can’t afford to invest a lot of time training us.

“The last point is a bit of a mixed bag,” she said. “I love the challenge of figuring out a vent I don’t know well, finding my way around a hospital, or the time asking others how to do something.”

Mother knows best

After years of free-lance writing, graphic arts, computer systems management, marketing, and veterinary medicine, Robynn found a love for respiratory therapy.

“My mother, who is a retired LPN and RT, encouraged me to look into respiratory care,” she said. “I talked with my mother, I talked with her mentor – who is now my mentor – and I was hooked. Respiratory therapy sounded like a wonderful mix of art, medicine, science, connecting with people, helping people, and challenges. I have to say, my mother was right.”

RTs are vital because they are the specialists. Breathing is vital, RTs must be able to be a mixture of technologists, computer scientists, psychologists, pharmacists, diagnosticians, educators, and compassionate caregivers.

“I rarely hear the ‘what’s a respiratory therapist’ question these days,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities for AARC and individuals to expand upon the importance of RTs message.”

A word to future therapists

“I became an RT later in life,” she said. “My advice for those considering the career is simply talk to RTs.” Robynn encourages future RTs to ask to shadow an RT for a few hours and reach out to RT programs.

“My RT career has been, by far, the most personally challenging and gratifying career of my life,” she said. “I’ve been privileged to help a dying patient pass with dignity, and equally privileged to tenderly hand a newborn baby to mom’s eager arms. Not every day is amazing, but most of them are.”

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Addie Schiefer

Addie Schiefer is the Communications Specialist for the AARC where she creates engaging content for the association via the AARC website, newsletters, and social media. Connect with her about potential stories on LinkedIn. When she’s not working, you can find her listening to a true crime podcast, traveling to new places with her husband, hanging out with her dog JoJo, or browsing the aisles of the nearest Target.

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