LONDON, ONT -- A decision made by the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario on Wednesday means 117 students within 10 weeks of graduating have been granted early licensing.

Fanshawe College has the largest program in the province and will be fast tracking 43 respiratory therapy (RT) students to aid with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We knew sort of as soon as this was coming, that something like that may have to happen,” says Fanshawe Program Coordinator Julie Brown.

“We just never had it happen before, so when our regulatory college reached out and asked us, 'How quickly can you get these students out there?' we pulled together and had a couple of late-night meetings and thought, you know what, we need to do this for the profession.”

There are only 3,000 RTs in Ontario, making those trained in high demand.

Kayla Tiller is one of the 43 Fanshawe graduates that will be joining a hospital in the province next week.

“It’s very scary, but I think we have done a really good job at being prepared for these roles, regardless of the fact we are being let out a little bit early.”

The students will be on the front lines of battling the pandemic.

“We are in those rooms, especially with the COVID patients, if they are getting those really severe respiratory illnesses and require ventilators, we are the front line, we are the ones at the ventilators we are the ones with the patients,” says Tiller.

Keanna Alcock is another graduating Fanshawe student who will be joining a hospital next week.

Where, she’s not sure, but knows the teams in place will help them integrate quickly.

“For a lot of us it’s going to be a big difference, we will still have that team environment of the respiratory therapists, the nurses and the doctors, everyone is great and more than willing to help everyone,” says Alcock.

With the peak of the crisis in Ontario on the horizon, the worst is still to come according to Brown.

“By adding them now they can get oriented to a hospital. If they haven’t been there yet, they can get trained up and become part of the team so in a week's time, or two weeks' time when this peaks, as we’re all thinking that it will, they are going to be right there waiting to go.”

This influx of bodies will take some of the pressure off those who have been working long hours since the crisis began, with the hope of preventing exhaustion.

The students will complete their course work online while working during the pandemic.