NEWBERRY, S.C. (WIS) - Megan Shell is a pediatric respiratory therapist in the Upstate.
Shell and other respiratory therapists across South Carolina help patients breathe. Right now, they are playing a big role in the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
Shell is also a recent graduate from Newberry College. She received her Bachelor's of Science in Respiratory Therapy. The program was created to prepare respiratory therapists for potentially increased standards in the profession.
Right now, to become a licensed respiratory therapist in South Carolina, you need an associate’s degree and a national certification. Some respiratory therapists in South Carolina get their degrees from technical colleges across the state offering respiratory care programs.
Shell said the program helped her develop skills that are needed in a time like the coronavirus pandemic. "We haven't been hit with a worst case scenario, but you have to plan for that."
Shell said at her unit they have not seen a high volume of COVID-19 patients but they are ready if things get worse.
Respiratory therapists are the only people in South Carolina allowed to manage ventilators. Severely-ill coronavirus patients might be placed on these ventilators -- Shell said the difference could be life or death. "Every change, all the trouble shooting, every little detail about that ventilator. We are the only resource and the only people who can titrate that machine."
A few years ago, the American Association for Respiratory Care said that 80% of respiratory therapists in the country should have a bachelor's degree or be enrolled in a bachelor's degree program by 2020. That's why Newberry College started their fully-online Bachelor's of Science in Respiratory Therapy program.
Program Director Dr. Jerry Alewine said pretty much all of the program's graduates are on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus.
He said, "It's a lot more than simply connecting the patient to the machine and letting it go. There are so many elements to it like flow rate, volume, compliance, and resistance. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge when it comes to managing a ventilator."
Dr. Alewine said the program provides a lot of flexibility since it is online. It allows students who are currently working in hospitals to manage their work and school.
In addition to preparing these respiratory therapists for potentially increased standards -- graduates and students are putting their skills to good use as South Carolina hospitals continue to take in coronavirus patients. "We play a big role in the survivability of these patients," he said.
Dr. Alewine said they expect at least a dozen more graduates from the program in December 2020.