As demand grows, UNCW to launch new respiratory therapy program

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — UNCW will launch a new respiratory therapy program in fall 2021, North Carolina’s first face-to-face bachelor program of this kind taught at a university.

According to the US Labor Bureau, the respiratory therapy field is predicted to grow 20% by 2029, which is considered much faster than the average.

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Jamy Chulak, the new program’s coordinator, says it is the #1 demanded program in North Carolina.

Not only is the position in demand, Chulak says it’s highly rewarding.

“Just helping patients who cannot breathe, or having difficulty breathing improve is pretty rewarding. It’s nice to get home at the end of the day and say you saved a life or if you helped someone who is struggling.”

Because coronavirus often targets the heart and lungs, many think the pandemic could heighten the need for trained respiratory specialists in the area.

“I think coronavirus will continue to impact that need, and it’s probably exacerbated it to some degree,” Thomas Nietman, the program’s Clinical Education Director, said.

The respiratory system is the group of organs in charge of the intake and expulsion of oxygen, and is heavily intertwined with the circulatory system.

That’s why Nietman says respiratory therapists need to be jacks of all trades, often working in several different veins of the healthcare system.

“What doesn’t a respiratory therapist do might be a good question. We work in every facet of the hospital,” Nietman said. “The only spot that maybe we don’t get into as much but it does happen from time to time is the operating room.”

Until now, the only university-offered respiratory therapy program was a totally virtual one at UNC Charlotte.

Starting next fall, Nietman says the program will be one of a kind. Featuring hands-on learning, it can be taken as a four-year program or as a “continuing education course” for two years.