Respiratory therapists are health-care professionals who work under the supervision of doctors to treat patients who have breathing problems and cardiopulmonary ailments. They provide therapy that relieves patients’ symptoms and restores their functions.

When people go to respiratory therapists, they are interviewed about their complaints and then undergo a series of diagnostic tests. Various types of advanced medical equipment are used to determine the cause of a patient’s suffering.

Respiratory therapists have more authority than nurses, but not as much as doctors. There are education and training requirements, but a medical degree is not mandated. These professionals are needed at all hours of the day or night, so several shifts are available in many facilities

More than 80 percent of respiratory therapists are employed at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics. Some work in nursing homes, at patients’ residences, or as members of emergency-care teams. Marketing and sales positions in the field do not entail providing treatment to patients. Continued job growth is expected for respiratory therapists, in part because of the rising number of elderly people experiencing lung and heart ailments.

Respiratory Therapist Job Description

Respiratory therapists diagnose and treat asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, COPD, deteriorated lungs in seniors, and underdeveloped lungs in children. They examine patients and conduct pulmonary-function, lung-capacity, and stress tests. The results must be analyzed and intepreted to arrive at diagnoses and to craft treatment plans.

Machines used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes include electrocardiograms, ventilators, aerosol generators, blood-gas analyzers, gas-delivery devices, volumetric exercisers, suction devices, and bronchopulmonary drainage equipment.

Respiratory therapists administer inhalants, place oxygen-delivering ventilation tubes in windpipes, and extract mucus from the lungs to help patients breath more freely. They teach breathing exercises and other ways of coping with ailments.

As treatment and therapy continue, respiratory therapists monitor patients’ vital signs, alterations in the blood’s chemical makeup, and the amount of gas in the blood.

After creating a treatment plan, these professionals often supervise assistants, students, and medical technicians in providing the prescribed therapy. The effects of treatments on the patient have to be constantly assessed, with changes in the treatment plan being made when necessary.

In addition, respiratory therapists design exercise programs for patients to perform in their homes. People need to be taught how to do the exercises, as well as how to use assistive-breathing equipment.

Respiratory therapists who serve on emergency-response teams provide urgent assistance to people who have had heart attacks, experienced shock, or nearly drowned.

The responsibilities of a respiratory therapist include:
  • Meet with patients to find out about their complaints and symptoms;
  • Examine the patient and conduct diagnostic tests;
  • Analyze the results of the examination and tests to make a diagnosis;
  • Explain the diagnosis and possible treatment methods to the patient;
  • Consult with doctors and other medical professionals regarding therapeutic methods;
  • Create a treatment plan, explain it to the patient, and direct others in administering the therapy;
  • Continually monitor the patient’s progress and response to treatments, modifying the plan and making adjustments;
  • Consult with other staffers and attend patient-care conferences to determine when to discharge patients;
  • Design home treatments, including breathing exercises, and instruct patients in how to do them;
  • Suggest outpatient and home-health follow-up programs;
  • Keep examination and testing areas clean, organized, and supplied with materials;
  • Follow established protocols designed to limit exposure to infectious diseases;
  • Create and update patient records;
  • Perform preventive maintenance on medical machinery, detect malfunctions, and calibrate equipment;
  • Educate other staffers in techniques and procedures by conducting training sessions;
  • Receive continuing education by attending conferences, reading medical journals, and joining professional organizations.

Respiratory Therapist Prerequisites

Like any medical professional who works directly with patients, a respiratory therapist needs to have a good bedside manner. Patients may be upset or worried, so a calm, understanding presence is helpful.

Excellent people skills and the ability to communicate effectively are crucial for serving patients and working with medical staff. Respiratory therapists must communicate in writing, as well, as they have to complete reports detailing patients’ progress.

Analytical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills aid in making diagnoses and designing treatment plans. Some employee-management acumen is also required because respiratory therapists frequently have assistants and others they are responsible for supervising and training. This job features a fast-paced and often high-pressure environment.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

To practice respiratory therapy, the minimum education requirement is an associate’s degree. It is mandated by nearly all states and employers. This degree is provided by universities, community colleges, technical schools, and vocational institutions. Students are advised to make sure the school they attend is recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.

To work at a hospital or in emergency medical services, a bachelor’s degree is usually required. Many accredited colleges and universities offer four-year undergraduate programs. Courses include anatomy, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, chemistry, diagnostic procedures, disease prevention, insurance reimbursement, medical administration and recordkeeping, microbiology, patient care, pharmacology, physics, physiology, and respiratory heath. In addition to classwork, clinical training is provided.

Master’s degrees may be necessary for those who wish to become administrators or independent respiratory therapists. Higher levels of education qualify practitioners for better salaries, and may get them jobs at larger or more prestigious medical facilities. Some of the field’s best-paying positions are in sales.

Respiratory Therapist Certification

In the United States, every state except Alaska and Hawaii mandated that respiratory therapists hold licenses to practice. Successful completion of a degree program is the main requirement for licensure.

In addition, practitioners need certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and credentials from the National Board for Respiratory Care. An exam must be passed to earn NBRC certification. A registered respiratory therapist certificate is a more advanced credential that can help land a higher-ranking or better-paying position.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

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Respiratory Therapist Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the respiratory therapist job description:
  • Diagnose and treat patients with breathing problems
  • Work with respiratory therapy technicians
  • 2 year associate’s degree
  • Most states requires license for practice
  • 19% employment growth by 2022