What is a Clinical Specialist, and is it Right for You?

Image of six RTs taking notes

To most people, moving up the career ladder in respiratory care means a job in management. But in an increasing number of hospitals, there is a relatively new position therapists can aspire to reach. This new position involves supervision and other roles vital to any RT department’s health and well-being.

These therapists are called “clinical specialists,” and their job description varies from place to place. But their goal is always to provide bedside therapists with the support services they need to excel in patient care.

A hybrid role

Andrew Klein, MS, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, AE-C, has been a clinical specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, since 2015.

“At my facility, it is a hybrid role, a mix between shift supervisor, educator, and clinical resource,” he said. On most shifts, he serves as a charge RT, overseeing shift operations and providing support to the clinical staff. He is also responsible for training, developing, mentoring, and evaluating staff members, and he plays a part in the interviewing and hiring process.

As a clinical resource for staff, he works closely with physicians, nurses, and other health care team members when complex cases arise. He is involved in facilitating clinical research and quality improvement projects for the department.

“At our institution, we have several projects aimed at answering questions and improving outcomes, so I get to use my over 17 years of bedside experience along with my graduate-level education to see these projects continue smoothly and properly,” Klein said.

He emphasizes the importance of advanced education to the role, noting that at Rush, clinical specialists must possess a master’s degree and NBRC specialty credentials pertaining to their clinical area.

“For example, I spend the majority of my time taking care of critically ill adult patients, so I have the ACCS credential,” he said. “Clinical specialists that care for neonatal and pediatric patients carry the NPS credential.”

Dynamic and evolving

Lukas Miskowicz, BS, RRT, RRT-NPS, entered the respiratory care profession six years ago and took on the clinical specialist role at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, IL, in July of 2019.

He says the role is exceptionally dynamic and constantly evolving.

“It differs from other RT positions at my hospital because it encompasses avenues beyond bedside care,” Miskowicz said. “A typical day may involve training my team on new equipment and processes, onboarding new team members, collaborating at multidisciplinary team meetings, or reviewing policies and procedures.”

One of the biggest challenges to the job is ensuring effective communication across multiple disciplines because any change or update made by the department affects not just respiratory care but also many teams throughout the hospital. They must be brought up to speed quickly and thoroughly to maintain a smooth delivery of patient care.

“I cope with this challenge by familiarizing myself and building rapport with contacts from different units in the hospital,” Miskowicz said. “This helps me get information out to the right individuals at the right time.”

Andrew Klein agrees communication is the biggest challenge to the job.

“There are times when leadership and staff see things differently,” he said. “In my role, I do my best to bridge the gap between the two and work to make sure everyone is heard. This can be quite difficult, but, if done properly, it improves the department as a whole.”

When things get dicey, he turns to his mentors for help.

“As a leader, I think it is important for me to consider all available information and points-of-view before I weigh in on an issue,” he said. “Once I have adequately thought something through, I consider how best to communicate the message.”

Forefront of change

Both Klein and Miskowicz enjoy the variety that comes with the position. Klein loves being involved in training and developing new RTs, participating in research, and having a voice in decisions made for the department at the leadership level.

“I feel that leadership decisions should be informed by those that are at the bedside each day, so I take this aspect of the role very seriously,” he said.

Miskowicz says the opportunity to be at the forefront of change is what he likes most about being a clinical specialist.

“As the respiratory therapy field grows and evolves with more medical advancements, it is the clinical specialist that conducts research and implements practice changes,” he said. “It is undoubtedly rewarding to implement a practice change that directly enhances the quality of patient care.”

High marks

If this sounds like a role that would be right for you, these therapists believe you should seek one out and go for it.

“I would absolutely recommend the clinical specialist role to my fellow RTs that aim to pursue a challenging career that makes a difference,” Miskowicz said. “In the clinical specialist role, you are always learning something new and finding creative ways to educate others. No two days are the same!”

Said Klein, “I would definitely recommend this type of role to a fellow RT with the right amount of clinical experience and communication skills. A strong clinical specialist, in my opinion, can directly impact the value and perception of the RT role in an institution.

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