Faculty Perspective: An 'Old Salt’s' Reflections on the Respiratory Therapy Field

Updated By Staff Writer on August 31, 2020

I entered the field of respiratory therapy in 1971, back when it was called inhalation therapy. My national registry exam number was 1,748—in other words, at that time the U.S. had only 1,748 registered inhalation therapists. I recall attending my first American Association of Inhalation Therapy meeting and noticing how young everyone was. I realized we were all pioneers in a newly formed field that promised a rewarding and exciting future.

Today, the U.S. has over 120,000 respiratory therapy jobs, indicating the growth of our profession. Many of us have graying hair, which reflects the longevity and success of our profession. I am not disappointed with my choice of profession!

Several years ago, when I attended the American Association for Respiratory Care convention in New Orleans, I was struck by how the profession had grown and come into its own. The meeting was as high in stature as any medical convention I’d ever attended, with lectures reporting research findings, medical advances, and even a well-organized national Sputum Bowl! I have grown older, along with my colleagues, in a very seasoned and respected healthcare profession.

`I have grown older, along with my colleagues, in a very seasoned and respected healthcare profession.`

I retired from practice in 2009 and became a faculty member at Independence University (IU). I am so proud to be part of this university. Noticing my nametag, many people come up to me at meetings and conferences and share that they are either an IU graduate or are considering enrolling in our bachelor’s degree program in respiratory care. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the merits of our university with them and to get to know them a bit, in case they become one of my students. Other practitioners have mentioned how they’ve worked with our graduates, and they sing their praises.

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My career in respiratory therapy has taken me on many journeys, all of which have been positive. IU is an adventure I didn’t expect at this stage in my life, but I’m very grateful to be part of such a great university. I love having the opportunity to work with such wonderful, resourceful colleagues. They are in this profession because they want to be, which makes all the difference.

About the Author

Dr. Gaynel Olsen retired from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in 2009. A registered respiratory therapist, she graduated with an associate’s degree in Respiratory Therapy Technology from Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois. Her career began with designing and developing the Respiratory Therapy Program at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

She holds a Ph.D. in Adult Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Since retiring from the VCU School of Medicine, Dr. Olsen has returned to her roots by teaching in the Respiratory Therapy Program for Independence University. Her research interests and teaching areas include respiratory care technology, instructional technology, occupational and technical studies, and family practice medical education.