While working as a staff RT a number of years ago, a ward clerk referred to me as ‘support staff’. I think she was joking – at least I hope she was – but I was still offended. “I’m not support staff,” I countered. “I’m a health care professional!” We laughed about it at the time, but it also apparently stuck with me.
Most RTs know how hard it is to explain what we do, especially to patients who ask if we’re a “special kind of nurse”. Once, after hearing “RT to room…” numerous times on the overhead pager, a patient’s family member asked me, “Who is this Archie fellow they keep calling?” Then, after doing my very best to summarize our profession he commented that: “it sounds like a job that is better suited for a man”. (Sigh).
It’s also often difficult for other health care professionals to wrap their heads around the RT’s role. Most of us have had the experience of being mistaken as the nurse or the physician – the latter particularly if standing at the head of the bed, which RTs often are. I have been asked several times to do a chest x-ray, assess patients whose problems were decidedly not cardiorespiratory-related (psychosis, groin pain, maggots), and was once called in from home in the middle of night to clean a gastroscope. Some facilities have tried to solve the mistaken identity issue by coding their professions in different coloured scrubs – which is helpful, but does little to clarify our role or speak to the immense value that RT services contribute to patient care outcomes.
We are – and likely always will be – a relatively small and newer profession, in comparison. Things have certainly gotten better over the years, but it seems that we continue to struggle with how others perceive our role. So my question is – who owns that? Who is responsible for ensuring that all the people that RTs interact with know not only what we do, but also its importance? Undoubtedly, both the CRTO and RT education programs have an important part to play in informing other professions and the general public about the RT role. However, I truly believe that the greatest impression can be made by the individual RT at the bedside (or in their particular practice environment). Ultimately, each RT has the power to raise the profession’s profile and showcase our unique body of knowledge/skills in their daily practice and interactions.
So, if we are ‘health care professionals’ (as I firmly declared I was), then it’s up to us to own that. Professionals rely on their knowledge to make decisions and also accept responsibility for those decisions (not just falling back on, “I did it because the doctor ordered it”). Professionals take pride in their work, conduct themselves in a respectful manner and take every opportunity to share what they know with those around them (like patiently answering questions – even somewhat insulting ones!).
It comes down to the individual RT enlightening one patient, family member, other health care professional, and yes – one support staff member – at a time about all that RTs do every day to enhance the lives of their patients and the entire health care system.