These Are The Top Things That Stress RTs Out on the Job

Stressed RT

You know the feeling. Your chest tightens up. Your brain can’t think straight. Your body just wants to lie down and rest.

It’s stress, and we all feel it, at home and on the job. What are the top stressors out there for respiratory therapists? We asked members of the AARC Specialty Sections to tell us.

Staffing issues

For many RTs, staffing top the list. “As a manager, the thing that stresses me the most is trying to keep up with the schedule and making sure everything is covered,” says Tina Dean Everett, RRT. “Trying to balance administration’s guidelines and balancing the workload on staff can be overwhelming, even on my off days.”

Benjamin Hamby, BSRT, RRT-NPS, says inadequate staffing is his biggest trigger. “Not having the resources or staff to provide safe, high quality care to our patients is the number one stressor,” he says.

Staff who don’t follow the schedule do it for Amanda Evans, RRT. “Being a supervisor, my number one stressor is attendance — call-offs, leaving early sick, showing up late.”

Lynn Reinert, RRT, agrees. “My number one stressor is having the night shift therapist call out sick. Since we only run one therapist at night this messes up my daytime scheduling.” At her small hospital, it often means she must go in to cover the night shift as well, and she’s generally no more prepared to do it than anyone else.

Handling all the uncertainties surrounding staffing is key for Suzi Westmorland, RRT-NPS. “Everyone who has ever worked in respiratory care knows the statement ‘we can’t staff on what ifs,’ but the truth is our profession is a series of those unpredicted occurrences that require a reallocation of staffing very quickly,” she says. Balancing staffing with the workload and projected RVUs can give her a good case of the nerves.

“Not having enough staff to help when the workload is expanding suddenly” is a problem for Denise Peppler, RRT-NPS, as well, and James Calhoun, RRT-NPS, feels the same way too.

“The one thing that stresses me out the most is having ‘acuity spikes’ in patient census,” he says. It leaves him feeling rushed and as if he is not able to care for his patients in the manner he would like.

Coping with push-back from staff is a trigger for Ruth Karales, RRT, particularly senior staff who don’t want to change and prefer to live in the past. “They just want the ‘old’ RT department back,” says the manager, and when she can’t give it to them, that causes trouble.

Deborah Hammer, BA, RRT, finds her stress level rising “when staff do not share information about other staff members’ actions because they don’t want to be ‘snitches’ or get anyone in trouble.” That causes turnover, creates discord in the department, and makes her look as if she hasn’t addressed issues that need to be addressed.

Other triggers

Tensions inherent in the middle management position RT managers find themselves in can cause stress as well. “Management is middle ground between two major competing functional resources: administration and technical staff,” says John Rinck, MBA, RRT-NPS, CPFT. “Both make demands with little knowledge of what the other is asking.”

Tina Pitt, MPS, RRT-NPS, gets most stressed out when other departments make decisions or changes without getting all the affected parties on board first. “We are all here to take the best care of our patients,” she says. ”Decisions in a busy hospital/clinic should be made with all parties at the table, a leader that is willing to listen to all sides, and a majority-supported outcome.”

For Carol Agard, BS, RRT, RPFT, FAARC, a lack of regard for RT’s input is a key trigger. “All initiatives are ‘nurse centered’ at our institution,” she says. “By that I mean if you do not have an RN in your title your input holds less weight, even though your input may be based on the clinical evidence, or you have been able to consistently meet your budgets, or exceed in cost saving.”

Anita Cooney, BHS, RRT, RPFT, is stressed by what she feels is a dearth of education specific to PFTs, particularly the new ATS standards. “My employer does not support education as much as they did in the past,” she says. “Managers are not current on PFT issues, and changes are very difficult to make.”

A packed schedule often leaves Gail Dutcher, RRT, AE-C, RPFT, feeling overwhelmed. “Patients booked close together, and supporting two or more clinics or specific doctors, especially pulmonologists or allergists that use a lot of the diagnostic services we offer, causes me stress, as I often want to, or need to, spend more time with the patient at the risk of throwing off the flow of the clinic,” says the solo RRT in a busy outpatient setting.

Too much on his plate does it for Kelly Colwell, MRC, RRT-NPS, CPFT, AE-C, as well. “I would have to say the number one thing that stresses me out is not having time to do the things I enjoy in life,” he says. “So many times we all get so bogged down with work, education, and responsibilities that we have little left at the end of the day for family and friends.”

Gretchen Stanton, BSRT, RRT, credits her stress to her unique work environment. A hospice RT charged with caring for patients at the end of the lives — many of whom are just grateful to live another day — she sometimes feels anger boiling up at people who don’t appreciate the lives they have. “Working in a hospice setting where death is inevitable leaves me angry/stressed by those who neglect their health, take their own lives, and treat this gift of life frivolously,” she says.

For Lisa Weinand, CRT, it’s pretty simple. “What stresses me out at work is neglect and a lack of compassion.”

Keep calm and move on

So, how do these RTs deal with all this stress? Here’s what some of them had to say about that —

“I have to make myself not think about work when I am at home. Watching a movie that I have to really focus on, like the detective type shows, can keep my mind off of work.”
— Tina Dean Everett

“I choose to remember the small things that are accomplished as an individual and a team on a daily basis.”
— Benjamin Hamby

“I like to read motivational books that get my own attitude back on track. Sometimes I forget that I cannot control the attitude and motivation of those around me, only my own.”
— Amanda Evans

“I find a tremendous amount of joy in doing stained glass, which is very involved and precise. It takes a great deal of focus and gives my brain a rest from work.”
— Suzi Westmoreland

“What I do to deal with this stress is to assure that I am getting all of the details in the daily report so that I know which patients are the “wheezers” and which are not going to be impacted as much if a treatment or therapy is “triaged” and thus delayed and/or not provided.”
— Denise Peppler

“Personally, walks, books, nature, music, art, and family help me maintain sanity.”
— John Rinck 

“I spend more time taking slow, deep breaths, saying a prayer, telling myself that others cannot affect my mood, go spend time with a patient or my grandchildren, think positive thoughts, and finally, meditate on what I do have to be thankful for.”
— Tina Pitt

“I read the scriptures daily and trust in God for direction and not my own power.”
— Carol Agard

“The car ride home and blowing off steam with my carpool buddy really help.”
— Deborah Hammer

“I try to look ahead and anticipate which patients may need more time . . . This at least lets me plan the day, and I can enlist help from the RNs for the education piece sooner rather than later.”
— Gail Dutcher

“I cope with the stress of life by embracing the reason I put myself through and endure the stress in the first place, by putting family first and trying to make a difference in the life of someone. It lets me put my head on the pillow and rest well at night.”
Kelly Colwell

“Yoga, meditation, time with family, community outreach and education.”
— Gretchen Stanton

“I cope by focusing on how I can make a difference when I am there.”
— Lisa Weinand