Respiratory Program Gets Creative with Clinical Education During the Pandemic

August 13, 2020
karen griffiths in respiratory lab
Karen Griffiths (center), assistant professor of respiratory care, in the on-campus respiratory simulation lab.

Students provide virtual patient support through the “Better Breathers Club”

When COVID-19 ended in-person classes back in March, it also ended clinical placements for students in the University’s respiratory care program. Most hospitals suspended their clinical training for students to focus on caring for an influx of COVID patients.

That’s when respiratory program director Karen Griffiths had to get creative about clinical training. Drawing on her extensive experience in patient education, she worked with the American Lung Association to set up a virtual support group for patients with chronic lung disease called the Better Breathers Club. Griffiths’ students have been able to gain experience this summer working with patients in the support group.

The Better Breathers Club meets online every Friday and has six members who were referred from the pulmonary rehab department at Saint Francis Medical Center in Hartford. Griffiths completed training to become a facilitator for the group, and respiratory students prepare and present educational materials during the sessions.  Topics include stress management, breathing retraining, energy conservation, understanding medications, and the ABCs of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

When I found out that pulmonary rehabilitation programs and support groups had been canceled during the pandemic, I thought a virtual support group would be beneficial.”

Karen Griffiths, Program Director and Assistant Professor of Respiratory Care

Griffiths worked in pulmonary rehabilitation at Hartford Hospital as a patient educator for 15 years before moving to UHart. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve missed patient interaction and considered becoming a facilitator for the American Lung Association support groups,” Griffiths said.  “When I found out that pulmonary rehabilitation programs and support groups had been canceled during the pandemic, I thought a virtual support group would be beneficial.”

While there were a few challenges at first getting the support group members set up with technology, Griffiths is excited about the outcome. “Not only has this provided a needed support group for patients with lung disease, it’s been an excellent opportunity for our students to connect with the community and provide patient education,” she said. “We do weekly surveys and have received excellent feedback. The participants enjoy having the students run the sessions.”

With participants in their 70s and older, the support group was also a good opportunity for students to gain experience working with older adults, for whom the University supports a number of programs as part of its commitment to the Age-Friendly University initiative.


About Respiratory Care
The respiratory care program in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions is the only entry-level bachelor’s degree program in New England, and more than 90 percent of its graduates land jobs in the field within a year of graduation. Alumni are working throughout the region at hospitals including Hartford Hospital, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and more. Learn more about the program here.

For Media Inquiries

Mary DiLeo