The onset of COVID-19 put immense pressure on the healthcare industry, as many medical positions became increasingly in demand. Healthcare facilities and institutions continue to rely on these professionals to perform diagnostic tests, provide various treatments, research virus pathogens, and more as the pandemic wavers on. For this reason, epidemiologists, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and emergency medical technician careers in healthcare have become in greater demand. Each of these roles has independent responsibilities and expectations. This article explains what exactly each position entails, and how they relate to coronavirus care and treatment across healthcare.
An Epidemiologist is a healthcare professional who is responsible for planning and directing various studies. They are also responsible for collecting and analyzing data to determine the underlying causes and patterns of diseases and injury in patients. Ultimately, the goal of these studies is to find new ways to prevent and treat injury or illness. As a public health career, these professionals can essentially be thought of as “healthcare detectives.” Additionally, Epidemiologists (or Public Health Scientists) communicate their findings to other staff members, health practitioners, policymakers, or the general public. Other responsibilities include managing and planning public health programs, conducting interviews or surveys, and keeping records.
“The formal definition of an Epidemiologist is a professional who investigates and studies the distribution and determinants of health and disease conditions among populations,” Leah Burn, MPH, an Epidemiologist practicing in New Jersey, explained. “The career is rewarding because you get to make an impact and improve health on a broad, global scale.”
Relating to COVID-19, Epidemiologists have been working diligently to understand and contain the virus. As part of their response, these healthcare professions seek to better understand both how the COVID-19 pandemic began, and what could be used to help relinquish the virus. A career in healthcare as an Epidemiologist has become even more in-demand as coronavirus variants, such as Delta and Omicron, continue to be discovered.
A Registered Nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional responsible for providing holistic patient care, which includes patient education and emotional support. RNs assess patients, record vital signs and symptoms, develop treatment plans, assess injuries and illnesses, and consult with other healthcare professionals. Furthermore, Registered Nurses use their knowledge to teach patients how to manage various acute and chronic conditions and use at-home treatments.
“A career in nursing is certainly very rewarding,” Lindsey Brust, RN, a Registered Nurse practicing in Pennsylvania said. “Most days are tough and the work never ends. As Registered Nurses, we are there to witness miracles in life and death. We build emotional connections with patients, families, and co-workers.”
During COVID-19, Registered Nurses took on a number of roles caring for and treating infected patients. This period required hundreds of thousands of RNs to work in critical care units—including adult, pediatric, and neonatal care. According to the article, “Nurses at the Front Line of COVID-19: Roles, Responsibilities, Risks, and Rights,” nurses have had to ensure that all patients acquire personalized, high-quality services irrespective of their infectious condition. Further, they engage in planning for anticipated COVID-19–related outbreaks, which increases the demand for nursing services as well. These professionals have also been needed to provide emotional support to patients and their families.
A Respiratory Therapist (RT) assists patients who are having trouble breathing for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema, underdeveloped lungs in infants, or emergency care resulting from shock, drowning, heart attack, etc. Another function of a Respiratory Therapist is to connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that will do the work of breathing for them. This ensures that enough oxygen is delivered to their blood. RTs can also work in the home care setting to inspect and clean equipment, teach best practices to patients and their families, and instruct caregivers on how to properly operate ventilators and other life-support systems.
“A lot of people don’t understand what respiratory therapy means, I basically say that I help people breathe. I also assist with cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) throughout the hospital. I work with all age groups from newborns to the elderly,” explained Phuong Holland, RT, a Respiratory Therapist who has practiced for almost a decade. “Additionally, I teach patients how to use respiratory equipment and breathing techniques, and work with other disciplines to develop a plan of care to help patients get discharged and take care of themselves. This care may include people with sleep apnea and those that need help to quit smoking.” Respiratory Therapists may be on-call for emergency home visits.
As the number of patients with COVID-19 has grown, so has the demand for respiratory therapists. This is because many patients with COVID-19 experience shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. For this reason, RTs are needed help to manage the devices that can deliver high levels of oxygen therapy, including heated high-flow nasal cannulas, non-invasive ventilation, and ventilators. This career in healthcare is additionally responsible for monitoring various lab values, vital signs, lung pressures and working with the providers to optimize ventilator settings.
Emergency Medical Technicians
Emergency Medical Technicians (or “EMTs”) are responsible for providing healthcare to those who are either sick or injured and in emergency situations. This involves responding to 911 calls, assessing a patient’s immediate condition to determine a course of action, and often providing first-aid or life support. Often, patient lives depend on the ability and experience of an EMT to handle a given scenario. For many of these professionals saving lives is the greatest reward.
These professionals must act quickly, with the goal typically being to transport a patient to an emergency mode of transportation and then a hospital/healthcare facility. Once they arrive at these locations, Emergency Medical Technicians report all observations and treatments to the healthcare staff, document these procedures, and then proceed to take inventory of, replace and clean/decontaminate all supplies used during the patient transfer.
In response to COVID-19, the roles of EMTs and the demand for these professionals have been dramatically expanded to meet the critical needs of public safety. Since the onset of the pandemic, many EMTs have been asked to assist with more complex first responder tasks. For example, many employees working in this career in healthcare have seen their roles expanded to include triage, diagnosis, on-scene treatment, communication, evacuation, coordination of patient transport, and patient tracking. In extreme cases, when a patient is experiencing respiratory failure, EMTs should employ the use of supplemental oxygen and intubation.