Oct. 19, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 42

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Free screenings could save lives

Respiratory Care Week is Oct. 21-27

Illustration of lungs

Most of us do it every day, without even thinking about it — we inhale, we exhale, we breathe. But a severe car accident, an illness, or a birth defect could easily leave anyone gasping for air. That's when a respiratory therapist becomes a lifeline.

The Health Science Center boasts one of the best respiratory care programs in the country. The Journal of Respiratory Care Practitioners cited it as one of the top six programs in the country. Students in the program consistently have the highest exam pass rates in the United States, and all Health Science Center graduates seem to find jobs.

"We've had a 100 percent placement with those students who wanted to work in the field. The others went on to pursue a higher education," said Dr. David Shelledy, associate professor and chair of the department of respiratory care.

The program has been in place since 1994, and since it is so tremendously successful, it's growing. In Aug. 2001, the department began a Laredo expansion program. Seven students in that city are now earning their bachelor of science degrees in respiratory care via teleconferences and distance learning courses. Dr. Shelledy says the department also is waiting for approval on a planned master of science program that could be in place as soon as 2003. Dr. Shelledy is exploring a collaborative pulmonary rehabilitation program that would eventually reside in the School of Allied Health Sciences.

Despite the program's success, the profession itself is in desperate need of respiratory therapists.

Currently, approximately 100,000 people work in the field, but an additional 46,000 practitioners will be needed by the year 2006. The American Association of Respiratory Care predicted the demand for respiratory therapists would increase by 42.6 percent between 1998 and 2008. "In the year 2000, more than 6,000 full-time positions were vacant," Dr. Shelledy said.

The increased need for respiratory therapists isn't surprising. The booming elderly population requires more health care than ever before. Asthma has reached epidemic proportions and thousands of others are affected by emphysema and pneumonia each year.

Good respiratory health care is easy to find at the Health Science Center, and this month, the price is right. National Respiratory Care Week runs Oct. 21 through Oct. 27. The department of respiratory care will hold free screenings between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, in the Medical School student lounge. Participants will receive pulmonary screenings, pulse oximetry screenings, asthma education and smoking cessation tests. They also will receive free information about a variety of lung diseases.

The screenings are open to the public, but are particularly recommended for anyone who smokes or has a lung disease.


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