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DCCCD respiratory care students learn how to help patients breathe easy
By Dallas County Community College District
Aug 10, 2017
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Dallas – Breathe easy!

Those instructions may sound simple unless you suffer from chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, emphysema or other maladies that restrict the lungs. 

Respiratory therapists can help when inhaling and exhaling become difficult. They assess, monitor and assist patients who are coping with lung and breathing disorders, and they also treat patients with diseases a range of ailments like asthma, lung cancer COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) and emphysema.  

El Centro College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, offers a program which leads to an associate in applied sciences degree in respiratory care and puts students on a fast career path. After they complete their prerequisites, students take classes in the program’s curriculum which they complete in 13 months. El Centro is the only DCCCD college where students can learn and earn a credential in that field. 

Graduating class of El Centro respiratory care students

Addison Pitts said she considered other medical fields but decided on respiratory care because of the potential for long-term employment. 

“I always wanted to do something in the medical field,” said Pitts, who received her associate degree in applied science this June. “With this (credential) I get to interact with patients. I like the diversity that respiratory therapy provides. My patients can be 26 weeks old or 80.” 

Pitts is the rare community college student who already had earned a bachelor’s degree. She is preparing to take the mandated test for respiratory care, and she likes the option of possibly working at a hospital or at a clinic. “As a single mom, I have to find something that has job security and a shift that allows me to be home with my child,” said Pitts, who has a 4-year-old daughter. 

Like Pitts, Renata Rampersad also has a four-year-degree; she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of North Texas, but finding a career in her field proved impossible.  

“I couldn’t get hired because I didn’t have experience, and I couldn’t get experience because they wouldn’t hire me,” Rampersad said. She previously worked as a records assistant for a home health care business – a field that did not involve treating and evaluating patients. 

“I just started researching different program, and I was so happy to find this one,” said Rampersad, adding that she like the accelerated pace of El Centro’s respiratory care program.  

Respiratory therapists are vital to any medical team 

DCCCD students attend lectures and then hone their skills in the college’s simulated nursing lab, said Jennifer De La Garza, clinical coordinator and faculty member at El Centro.  

Students simulate pulmonary function testing, ventilation and airway management. They learn how to measure lung compliance and airway resistance and also how to diagnose ailments. This career field is evolving because therapists perform more complex therapies than administering oxygen and giving treatments, she said.  

DCCCD’s competency-based respiratory care program requires students to demonstrate that they have mastered these and other techniques, which instills confidence in the patients as well as the medical staff.  

“The way our program works is that we teach our students a clinical skill, and they must show us they are competent. There’s a lot of practicing and feedback in the labs. We monitor them closely to make sure they are safe and efficient in the required skills,” De La Garza said. 

The program stresses the importance of patient safety. Most students who are attracted to this field come with empathy, she added. 

“Our program coordinator, Chandi Idicula, likes to tell students ‘if you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,’ yet we take it for granted unless we have some compromising illness or accident that limits our ability to achieve this most basic human function,” De La Garza said. “Students who are very serious about this (field) want to help their patients breathe easy.” 

Respiratory health care services are required in all areas of medical care, and employers are looking for eager workers who want to expand their knowledge and expertise, De La Garza stated.  DCCCD students are also trained at five area Dallas hospitals, which is helpful, too. 

“Employers know our students, and they know what they can do. Dedicated, hard-working students will likely get a job in the field,” said De La Garza, who began teaching at El Centro in 2008. “The demand is high and El Centro is known for how well it trains its students. Our students enter the program with their prerequisites. We give them the attention and time they need.” 

Although most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, they also find work at sleep disorder centers, in home care, at neonatal units and at the side emergency physicians who treat patients suffering from ailments such as heart attacks and near drownings.

“We cover patients from the cradle to the grave,” De La Garza said. “The inability to breathe can be frightening for anyone.” 

Rampersad said she jumped at the chance to enter a field that allows direct patient contact. She knows that certain maladies and conditions can make breathing labored and hopes to bring a caring demeanor. 

“I always wanted to help people,” she said. “Our job is to take care of our patients and to remain positive and caring. I always watched medical shows, so I looked for a medical program that was hands-on. There are other respiratory schools, but this one suited my needs.” 

Most students are attracted to the long-term job potential and livable wage available to respiratory therapists. The average annual salary for respiratory therapists is $58,670, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job outlook is promising and projected to grow about 12 percent over the next seven years. 

For more information about El Centro’s respiratory therapy program, call Jennifer De La Garza at 972-860-5072 or send an email to her at jdelagarza@dcccd.edu.