Ginny Martins: Profile of a Respiratory Therapist as Multi-tasker

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As a Charge Respiratory Therapist and Professional Practice Leader at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, Ginny Martins wears many hats. One minute she could be meeting with doctors and nurses about new practices that affect patient care and the respiratory therapists she works with, and the next minute she could be in the Intensive Care Unit at the bedside of a patient on life support.

There are 15 full-time Registered Respiratory Therapists (RTs) at St. Joe’s who work in all areas of the hospital. Ginny is responsible for ensuring that there are enough RTs to cover the required day and night shifts; there are usually three on the graveyard shift and four on during the day. Ginny works primarily during the day, but is always available to step in during shortages, day or night, in any capacity.

“Part of why I love this job is because every day is different and brings new challenges,” said Ginny. “We work with patients of all ages, from premature babies to the elderly. We are always moving from one ward to the next, from the Intensive Care Unit, to general medicine, to emergency, to labour and delivery.”

Ginny begins her day listening to the night shift report and speaking with staff about any issues that may have arisen. Then she checks her e-mail and prepares for upcoming meetings with other hospital staff to give input into practice changes, knowing she could be called away at any moment to lead a life-saving, respiratory procedure.

Throughout every shift, Ginny’s focus on education is constant. She acts as a resource for staff and as needs arise, provides education to health-care professionals. Once a month at hospital orientation, she teaches new nursing staff about the role of the Respiratory Therapist at St. Joe’s. She provides insights into respiratory policies that impact nursing and the equipment used to provide oxygen and inhaler therapy. Twice a month, Ginny takes part in a hospital community outreach program and talks to elementary school students about how the human respiratory system works. She also helps them understand more about breathing problems such as asthma.

Like many RTs in the province, Ginny’s job was affected by SARS. During the first week of the initial outbreak, Ginny was quarantined at home. She was confined there after a probable exposure to a SARS patient at St. Joe’s. But, she was busy. Ginny spent her time answering calls from other RTs and staff about work assignments and practice concerns. During the second week, her role changed. After her quarantine ended, she was back at the hospital acting as a key source of information about what SARS Provincial Operating Centre Directives meant for the RTs and other health-care professionals at St. Joe’s.

As part of her regular job, Ginny is responsible for quality assurance of high-end respiratory equipment, ensuring equipment availability and providing front-line education to RTs. This role during the SARS outbreaks was critical as new equipment had to be purchased and people had to learn how to use it very quickly. During the SARS outbreaks, Ginny often supplemented government directives with her knowledge of how respiratory gear could function to best protect patients and hospital staff.

“We haven’t used the Stryker¨ suits for a while now, but they were essential during SARS. They weren’t easy for staff to get in and out of though,” said Ginny. Stryker¨ suits were worn by RTs as a way to prevent SARS infection when doing high-risk procedures such as intubation or a bronchoscopy. The suit has a large face shield, a hood and a full gown to protect staff from respiratory droplets – the chief method of transmission for SARS.

Teaching staff how to use these suits effectively became a key part of registered respiratory therapist – Ginny Martins’ role as a round-the-clock educator. Keeping abreast of changes in respiratory equipment, supervising, mentoring and educating RTs, holding in-service education sessions for nurses and other health professionals, revising current respiratory policies and procedures and creating best practices are all part of the job.