How Engaging with Patients Can Lead to RT Job Satisfaction

Young RT Volunteers

It isn’t always easy to remain satisfied with your job. Policies, procedures, scheduling issues, coworker conflicts — they can all get in the way. But, at the end of the day, respiratory therapists are there to care for patients. RTs who make a conscious effort to stay engaged with their patients believe that when you stay focused on your patients, you go home feeling good about what you do for a living.

Good customer service

Karsten Roberts, MS, RRT, RRT-ACCS, calls it good customer service.

“The two things that I have always relied on are, finding things in common with people and making them laugh,” said Roberts, an RT at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

He says the first thing he does when he walks into a patient’s room — after assessing their condition, of course — is to look for what interests them.

“It could be what is on TV, or what they are reading,” he said.

He finds a way in, then starts up a conversation about that topic.

“If I meet someone who loves baseball, forget my other patients, I will be in that room the rest of the day,” Roberts said, jokingly.

On a more serious note: “I always tell my patients that if it were up to me, they’d get discharged when their sense of humor returns,” Roberts said. “This usually goes over pretty well, and I enjoy getting people to at least crack a smile.”

The benefits that accrue to patients come back to him many times over.

“Engaging with patients is part of the reason I returned to the bedside after spending three years as a full time educator,” Roberts said. “My job satisfaction is through the roof.”

Part of their lives

Engaging with patients is critical in pulmonary rehabilitation, and Anne M. Hamilton, BS, RRT, who works in pulmonary rehab and diagnostics at McLaren Bay Region in Bay City, MI, says she takes great pleasure in knowing she is a part of her patients’ lives.

“They do not hesitate to ask or call us with any questions that they might have,” said Hamilton, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She and her colleagues keep their patients engaged through activities like potluck suppers and other social events, and they always make it a point to spend time talking with them during their twice weekly sessions, getting to know both them and their families.

“Some of our maintenance patients have been with us for 10 to 15 years,” Hamilton said.

Small gestures, big impact

As a transport RT for Florida Flight 1 out of Florida Hospital-Orlando, you might not think Jon Inkrott, RRT, RRT-ACCS, has the time or even the opportunity to engage with patients. After all, his patients are in critical situations and he and his colleagues have to scramble to ensure they get to the care they need.

Inkrott says on one level, that’s true.

“In the flight world, in our very time sensitive patients — heart attacks, vascular emergencies, and strokes — we don’t have much time to engage at bedside, as we are focused on getting the patient to a higher level of care,” Inkrott said.

However, while his patients may not remember him or the flight that delivered them to definitive care, he says their families certainly do. When he has a spare moment he will take the time to explain what’s going on to these family members, helping ease their concerns.

“Taking someone’s family member and putting them in a helicopter can be a little unnerving, so a hand hold or a hug can certainly make a difference when comforting them,” Inkrott said. “I always try to call the family once we have arrived to offer them the solace of knowing we made it safely and where their loved one is and how they did during the transport.”

He believes these small gestures make a big impact and that makes him want to get up and do it all again the next day.

His spirits are inevitability raised during follow up too, when he sees patients who were in dire straits get better and go home.

“When you see the results and know that you have made a difference, nothing is more satisfying!” Inkrott said.

Cherishing those “wow” moments

Michael Houston, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPSGT, works in the VA sleep lab in New Orleans, LA, and says he finds satisfaction in educating his patients about their conditions and how to treat them.

“I usually begin with, ‘so what brings you here?’ then go from there,” Houston said. “For instance, if it is a CPAP patient I spend more time explaining what CPAP is and how it works.”

He gears his education to the patient’s wants and needs, and he listens to their concerns.

“Many times as I explain sleep architecture and hygiene to my patients, they say ‘wow, you worded things so I can understand them. Thank you,’” Houston said. “That allows me to go home and feel like I made a difference, not only for my patient, but in many instances their children. It gives me great pleasure knowing I’m helping to start the cycle.”

Life experiences

Even RT managers can gain greater job satisfaction from engaging with patients. James Cleaves, RRT, CPFT, associate director of respiratory care services at University Hospital in Newark, NJ, makes time in his schedule to round on randomly selected, or sometimes especially challenging, patients on a weekly basis.

“I always give them my contact info straight away so they know I’m here to help them any way I can,” Cleaves said. “When I speak with them, I always try to find out some of their life experiences and then use those shared experiences to illustrate what’s happening now and possible outcomes after discharge.”

He finds opportunities to engage with families through his side job in a long-term ventilator unit too. Patients are mainly there for conditions like ALS and CVA, and often it is the end of the line for them and their families.

Cleaves says it’s the little things that count, such as talking to their loved one as if they can hear every word.

“That family wants to see their loved one cared for with dignity,” Cleaves said. “Each of us is responsible for that, regardless of the role being played.”

He wants RTs to remember that, whatever the situation, they are caring for someone who doesn’t really want to be there and is at his or her worst and most vulnerable.

“You get to go home. They may eventually, hopefully in a better condition than they came in, because of how each of us touched them,” Cleaves said. “That’s why I do it. Anyone who doesn’t get that simple fact needs to find another profession.”