SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Respiratory therapists are among the most sought-after medical professionals in the country, but a shortage of them is affecting Siouxland hospitals.

The increase in COVID-19 patients is making it difficult for respiratory therapists to treat each patient. There simply aren’t enough to go around.

“It’s very difficult when there’s a shortage of respiratory therapists cause we have been the frontline heroes in the whole treatment of coronavirus,” said Cindy Duncan, the Respiratory Care Program director at St. Luke’s College.

Duncan is head of the only respiratory therapy program in Siouxland and said the rigorous training required to become a respiratory therapist, and the job itself, limit the numbers.

“They’re putting lots of hours and it’s not just regular hours, they’re very intensive hours because these patients take a lot of work and you know it’s mentally and physically exhausting,” Duncan said.

Maria Tinajero is a respiratory therapy student at St. Luke’s College. She said she’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s been a really good experience. We practice in here in this room. We practice on each other before we go into the hospital setting and do it on actual patients. That’s been a really good experience for me, it’s more of a hands-on training. I love to see it and do it myself,” Tinajero said.

That hands-on training is what’s required to become a licensed respiratory therapist.

“Some people think it’s a nurse or a doctor’s job to do this and we specialize in the heart and the lungs. If they go into respiratory failure, it’s a respiratory therapist who helps to manage the ventilator,” said Duncan.

While the number of respiratory therapists is expected to grow next year, Duncan said it’s not likely to be enough to keep up with the growing number of COVID cases.


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