Indispensable RTs: Becoming the Therapist Your Department Can’t Do Without

Indispensable RTs

Ask respiratory care managers to describe their dream employee and it would be the one they just can’t do without. What kind of traits do these indispensable RTs have? We turned to members of the AARC’s Management Section to find out.

Stand out traits

Self-motivation and confidence are traits that stand out for Roy Palmer, Jr., RRT, cardiopulmonary director at Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, NE.

“I want a therapist that is knowledgeable in their profession and is motivated to improve themselves, either by staying current on new respiratory topics or by trying to advance their career by obtaining a specialty credential, such as the ACCS or asthma educator, or even working on a higher educational degree,” Palmer said.

He says therapists need to be sure of themselves and their skills too — but not so sure that they turn everyone off.

“There is a difference between being confident and being brash, and it is often a fine line,” says Palmer.

Michael Meska, BGS, RRT, administrative director at Franciscan Health in Indiana, values RTs who are resourceful and can take the initiative, have both high tech and high touch skills, and can slow down and provide patient education when needed.

“During interviews, we remark to potential candidates that while the NBRC credential earned helps describe their knowledge level, their soft skills will go a long way to a long and successful career,” Meska said. ”How do they treat people? Do they see things through the patient lens?”

Tina Dean-Everett, RRT, cardiopulmonary care director at Highlands Medical Center in Scottsboro, AL, says her best employees are those who enjoy taking care of people. These therapists go the extra mile for their patients, regardless of whether that means clinical care or something as simple as getting them a cup of coffee.

She also appreciates therapists who can deal with change and who will work within the confines of management decisions.

“A manager does not want an employee who argues or complains when they have to do something,” Dean-Everett said.

Pillars of the department

A positive attitude also tops the list for Julie Talbert, BSRT, RRT, director of respiratory care at Meridian Medical Center in Meridian, ID.

“Integrity, compassion and a zest for life are must-have characteristics of the engaged respiratory therapist,” Talbert said.

She says these therapists show up ready to work and with an ‘I will enhance the patient’s experience’ attitude.

“There isn’t anyone they wouldn’t help and they don’t need to be asked,” Talbert said.

For Brenda Wilkerson, BS, CRT, cardiopulmonary supervisor at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin, IN, the indispensable RT is one who understands how the department operates and why things are done the way they are.

“It’s the person that wants to be involved with an organization-wide initiative or committee,” Wilkerson said. ”The indispensable therapist finds the reason behind decisions and shares it with his or her coworkers.”

Ruth Karales, BS, RRT, manager of respiratory care services at Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, IL, considers indispensable therapists the pillars of their department and sees them as people who want to learn and grow as an RT.

“Honest, up-front to their peers and leadership in a professional manner without participating in the gossip — this is your indispensable RT,” Karales said.

No time to wait and watch 

Jack Fried, MA, RRT, director of respiratory care and neurodiagnostic services at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT, characterizes indispensable therapists as those who are flexible, willing to learn new skills, and bring a cheerful disposition to the job.

“Be the teammate others trust, value, and with whom others want to work,” Fried said.

The top trait for Bill Gilmer, RRT, respiratory care manager at USMD Hospital at Arlington in Arlington, TX, is flexibility.

“To me, the most important is a well-rounded therapist — one that can still work in any area of the hospital and doesn’t limit themselves to just one area,” Gilmer said.

Bob Yost, education coordinator for respiratory care at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, suggests therapists seeking to become indispensable RTs continue to work on their professional skills.

“Our world is moving too fast to accommodate a lot of waiting and watching,” Yost said.

Joanna Hudak, MSM, RRT, RRT-NPS, manager at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, VA, believes therapists need think about upgrading their credentials and degree and they also need to join their professional organizations and get actively involved.

They should consider how they can become indispensable to their organization as a whole too.

“Take the phone project no one else wants, take the lead for United Way and other approved fundraisers,” Hudak said.

She says getting out there puts you in touch with leaders in the organization and that can be priceless when leadership opportunities become available.

“When positions open up within your organization you are noticed already as a leader or informal leader,” Hudak said.

Hold on to new grad passion

What if you’re just starting out in the profession? Sally Whitten, MHS, RRT, director of respiratory care at Maine Medical Center in Portland, has some particularly sage advice for new therapists too.

“In my position, I interview many new grad applicants and they are so excited about their new profession,” Whitten said. “They observe highly skilled RTs during their clinical assignments and often share the name of the RT they would most like to emulate at some point in their career.”

When she asks them what made this RT special for them, she says they talk about being treated with kindness, observing a willingness to teach, and witnessing a helpful and friendly approach with everyone the RT interacted with during the shift.

She suggests new grads hold on to that image and work hard to emulate that RT who stood out from the crowd during their clinical rotations.

“You can approach this profession as a job that you go to every day or as a career you are passionate about and proud to be part of,” Whitten said. “The indispensable RT carries that new grad passion throughout their career and that enthusiasm shines through in all aspects of their performance.”