On Wellness in WV

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) on the rise, not only in West Virginia but nationwide, the field of respiratory care is needed more than ever.

Chris Trotter, associate professor of respiratory therapy at Marshall University, said respiratory therapists are and will continue to be in high demand due to the many respiratory hazards in this region.

“We live in an area dependent on the special metals and coal industries,” Trotter said. “As great as this is for our economy, it is equally detrimental to the respiratory health of our residents. We understand the urgency of this problem, which is why Marshall University was one of the first to step up and do something about it.”

According to the United Health Foundation, 25 percent of the population over 18 smoke on a regular basis in West Virginia. Smoking is considered the most prominent risk factor for COPD, which has been the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. since 1991, and the third-leading cause of death in West Virginia for eight of the nine years from 2000 through 2008, as noted by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

With COPD on the rise, licensed respiratory therapists are wanted to evaluate, educate and treat patients with all types of breathing disorders.

Since 2005, the St. Mary’s/Marshall University cooperative school has offered a Bachelor of Science degree in respiratory care. Currently, it is one of two nationally accredited programs in West Virginia, joining Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va.

Keith Terry, associate professor of respiratory therapy at Marshall, said unlike the traditional four years required for most undergraduate programs, the respiratory therapy program takes just three years to complete.

“Our program provides a comprehensive, faced-paced environment which allows for a better understanding of our profession,” Terry said. “Our advanced coursework engages our students, fostering the foundation of knowledge necessary to result in better patient outcomes.”

Housed in the St. Mary’s Center for Education on 29th Street in Huntington, the respiratory care classrooms have state-of-the-art equipment complete with an on-site library and a new high fidelity simulation lab.

Dr. Michael W. Prewitt, dean of the Marshall College of Health Professions, said the partnership between the college and St. Mary’s provides a unique opportunity for those interested in pursuing careers in the health professions.

“Our graduates are able to seek employment in multiple health care settings,” Prewitt said. “An increasing number of respiratory therapists are now working in skilled nursing centers, physicians’ offices, home health agencies, specialty care hospitals and medical equipment supply companies.”

The St. Mary’s/Marshall University cooperative respiratory care program accepts 20 new students each year.  For more information on enrollment, contact Christopher.trotter@st-marys.org or call 304-399-4969 or 304-399- 4970.