Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — more commonly known by RTs as “ECMO” — is a treatment of last resort for patients who have failed other, more conventional forms of therapy like mechanical ventilation. An ECMO machine essentially replaces the function of the heart and lungs, allowing the patient to heal or providing a bridge to transplant.
Respiratory therapists are increasingly the clinicians of choice to help physicians manage this complicated form of life support, and if you think you’d like to join their ranks, Keith Lamb, RRT, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, FCCM, an RT and ECMO specialist on the trauma, surgery and neurological service at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, has four great pieces of advice you can use to get your foot in the door—
- Be the mechanical ventilation expert. Mechanical ventilation is an integral and imperative part of the management of ECMO patients. Make sure you know more about it than anyone else. Get your specialty credential (ACCS and/or NPS). Demonstrate that you have a special interest in all things critical care. Demonstrate that you are well educated. ECMO patients are the sickest patients you will ever take care of. They deserve the best.
- Attend relevant conferences. Continue to learn all that you can about critical care and how to take care of ECMO patients. Be current on all things critical care. Be relentless in your pursuit of knowledge. ECMO patients have many complex medical and surgical issues that need to be addressed. You will have significant influence on how these issues are managed.
- Seek out mentorship from other ECMO experts. Find the people that everyone respects and listens to and learn from them. Shadow these people and glean as much knowledge from them as possible. These people are often easy to point out. If you need to, ask around.
- RTs make some of the best ECMO specialists. We are well educated in cardiorespiratory physiology. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and give input. What you have to offer has great value. Have fun learning and teaching. Love what you do. Excel. Advance the profession.
Learn more about the ACCS and NPS credentials on the NBRC website.