News From CHEST Physician®

“A physician’s secret weapon”: Why the world needs more RTs


CHEST and the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) are continuing their longstanding partnership to raise awareness about the More RTs initiative, which addresses the alarming shortage of respiratory therapists (RTs) in the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the shortage of RTs, but the problem predated the 2020 crisis. A survey from the American Association for Respiratory Care showed several factors driving the need for more RTs, including an aging U.S. population, growing incidences of respiratory disorders, and advances in pulmonary medical devices.

But the squeeze is coming from both internal and external forces. Retirements of RTs are outpacing new growth, while, at the same time, the need for quality respiratory care is increasing. Simply put, demand for RTs is high but the supply of RTs is dangerously low.

Lori Tinkler, Executive Officer of the NBRC, said physicians can make a difference in increasing the number of RTs and championing their success on the clinical care team. Tinkler recently shared her insights on the initiative and how physicians can get involved.

CHEST: Respiratory therapists are extremely valuable members of the clinical care team. Can you share why RTs are so important?

Lori Tinkler: I like to say respiratory therapists are a physician’s secret weapon. Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a medical director.

They really carry out the orders of physicians and help the physician determine the best pathway for patients using protocols. They [serve as] experts when it comes to ventilators and treating the patients for their pulmonary issues under the physician’s orders.

CHEST: How can physicians get more done with more RTs on the clinical team?

Tinkler: By working with protocols and relying on their respiratory therapists. Listen to what they’re saying when it comes to patient care since respiratory therapists are spending much more time with the patients than the physicians are.

It’s really the whole health care team working together with the patient. What [physicians can] keep in mind is, how are they going treat that patient the best and utilize the expertise that respiratory therapists bring to the table? They probably have the most diverse skillset, but they are highly trained and specialized in lung diseases and treatment of asthma and COPD.

CHEST: How can physicians help integrate RTs into the clinical team?

Tinkler: It’s really ensuring that their institutions recognize the value of respiratory therapists and what they bring to the table. Ensuring that their departments are adequately staffed and championing that effort, speaking up, and being a voice for the respiratory therapist and what they bring to the bedside.

CHEST: How else can physicians get involved?

Tinkler: We’re always looking for physician stories about how they utilize and champion their respiratory therapist. And, of course, we’re always looking for physicians to get involved in the credentialing process by being a consultant or board member, or by being a content expert and helping write the test questions for the respiratory therapy credentialing exams.

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