BGSU Firelands prepares respiratory therapists on the front lines of COVID-19 response

College offers respiratory care degree, specialization 

Copsey -  BGSU Firelands prepares respiratory therapists on the front lines of COVID-19 response

By Amber Stark '99

Health care workers are on the front lines of the nation’s COVID-19 response, but perhaps none has been thrust into the spotlight more than respiratory therapists (RTs).

Known for assisting patients with a range of respiratory problems in all areas of hospitals and health care facilities, RTs are now directly fighting COVID-19 as it ravages the lungs of patients around the world.

One of those frontline workers is Bowling Green State University student David Copsey.

“In my work life, I am considered ‘essential,’” said Copsey, who works in the neurological intensive care unit at the Main Campus with Cleveland Clinic. “We have been preparing for months for the surge of COVID-19 patients. I am thankful to be considered ‘essential’ because I have the privilege of learning. This learning will one day soon apply to my practice as a future RRT. This will help me take care of patients in a better way.”

Copsey has been able to see unique situations during the pandemic such as registered respiratory therapists (RRTs) setting up ventilators outside of rooms to minimize exposure and nurses setting up their medications in the same fashion.

“I have been able to watch and be a part of the medical team working together to give the best care for these patients,” he said. “May we stay safe, socially distanced and healthy during this difficult time, and remember that we have some amazing workers on the front lines that are dedicated to making our lives better.”

Copsey has always been interested in the medical field, but it wasn’t until his wife got sick that he decided it was time for him to make medicine his profession.

“When I first started in the medical field, I was in a nursing program,” he said. “I had no idea what options there were in regard to jobs in the medical field. I always heard of nurses so I figured that’s what I would do. While in the program I began working with Cleveland Clinic as a nursing assistant. I enjoyed the job, but it was not a passion for me. I did, however, get to work closely with all of the medical staff. That is where I discovered the respiratory therapist position.

“When a patient needed help breathing, they called the respiratory therapist. If the patient needed to go home on oxygen, they called the respiratory therapist. If the patient was crashing, it was a team of respiratory therapists at the head of the bed ensuring that the patient was breathing and getting the oxygen that they needed. It occurred to me that a respiratory therapist is what I truly wanted to be. I have always enjoyed critical care, and RRTs are heavily involved in that part of medicine.”

“Respiratory therapists are truly on the front line in caring for COVID-19 patients,” said Carol Puder, BGSU Firelands’ respiratory care program director. “This is what we do. We are specifically trained to care for patients with lung problems and specialize in the recognition and treatment of lung disease.

“We can provide an airway for those who need it. We respond to all emergencies and code situations. We initiate and manage mechanical ventilators to breathe for patients when they can’t breathe on their own. RTs are there to maintain oxygenation and ventilation for all patients. With the lung issues that COVID-19 patients are experiencing, respiratory therapists are critical in providing the care needed to help them recover.”

BGSU Firelands offers a Bachelor of Science in respiratory care and registered respiratory therapists who are working in the profession and have completed an associate degree program can come to BGSU to advance their career with the Bachelor of Applied Health Science respiratory care specialization degree.

The program is offered at BGSU Firelands and through a satellite program offered through the university partnership at Lorain County Community College.

“The BGSU Firelands respiratory care program has a long history of providing quality instruction to its students,” Puder said. “Our graduates are actively recruited by local hospitals as well as other top health care organizations across the state due to the quality of their instruction.”

Respiratory care professionals treat abnormalities and diseases of the cardiopulmonary system affecting a diverse group of patients ranging from newborn and pediatric patients to the adult and elderly. Diseases often requiring respiratory care include asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, respiratory distress syndrome and conditions brought on by shock, trauma or postoperative surgical conditions. Respiratory therapists complete patient evaluation, treatment selection and assess treatment outcomes as well as perform patient education and disease management.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook projects the need for respiratory therapists to grow by up to 21 percent. Students can work in the profession while completely their degree.

“Our program utilizes recently renovated, state-of-the-art lab facilities for students to practice their patient procedures,” Puder said. “We incorporate simulation training into multiple courses through the use of our simulation lab with SimMan. Our students complete their clinical training at award-winning, nationally recognized medical facilities across northern Ohio including the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and Mercy Health.

“Our faculty continue to work in the profession to keep up-to-date on current standards and because we love what we do. All of these components work together to maintain the high-quality standards we expect out of our program and our graduates.”

“BGSU always stood out to me,” Copsey said. “I know alumni that have attended the program and they have always spoken highly of it. I always heard how personable the instructors were and how they were genuinely concerned about helping students succeed. The claims that the alumni made were 100 percent correct. Ever since I started looking at schools, the program faculty made me feel incredibly welcome. This started when I interviewed for the program and support has continued since then.”

Additional highlights of the program include flexible hours, creative scheduling and multiple shift options for clinicals; small student-to-faculty ratios; and the completion of required certifications prior to graduation. Graduates are eligible to sit for the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) examinations to become a certified respiratory therapist and registered respiratory therapist and are also able to pursue a graduate degree.