Careers with a Respiratory Care Therapy

Respiratory Therapy involves the evaluation, treatment and care for patients who suffer from cardiopulmonary and other breathing disorders. Patients are of all types, ranging from premature infants to the aged whose lungs are diseased. Patients who suffer from chronic lung problems such as emphysema and asthma or those who need emergency care such as victims of shock, drowning, stroke or heart attacks all need a respiratory therapist as part of their care team. Certified respiratory therapists (RTs) work closely with physicians and are responsible for the diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of patients as well as the supervision of respiratory technicians. RTs are required to provide and develop personalized care plans for patients along with complex therapeutic procedures. Many patients who need the services of a respiratory therapist are critical cases in intensive care or on life support.

Respiratory therapists conduct diagnostic tests, evaluate patients, perform physical examinations and regularly assess their progress. Many therapists offer home care services to those patients who use life support systems and ventilators. It is the responsibility of the RT to inspect and maintain this equipment as well to ensure its proper use. RTs are also trained in chest physiotherapy to assist patients and make breathing easier for them. Respiratory therapists employed in hospitals often expand their roles and include services such as disease prevention, case management, pulmonary rehabilitation and counseling to quit smoking. RTs are also needed as members of critical care teams in hospitals and the armed forces.

To evaluate patients, respiratory therapists interview them and conduct diagnostic tests such as measuring their breathing capacity and determining the concentration of oxygen or acidity in their blood. To treat patients, respiratory therapists set up and monitor ventilator equipment, perform chest therapy to remove mucus from their lungs, and assist them with rehabilitative exercises. Although most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, an increasingly large number of them are employed by home care agencies, nursing homes, and respiratory therapy clinics

As part of their education, students of a respiratory therapy degree learn topics such as cardiac & renal anatomy & physiology, cardiopulmonary pharmacology, pulmonary anatomy & physiology, pulmonary function testing, respiratory care protocols, polysomnography, and many more.In additions to these clinical concepts, respiratory therapy graduates also learn management principles that respiratory care practitioners need to perform supervisory roles. These subject areas include management planning, psychology of motivation, business law, organization design and change, etc.

At the end of their program, graduates have the skills and knowledge to meet the everyday challenges that the work of an RT throws up – be it at a hospital treating patients with chronic breathing problems or responding to emergencies or at a patient’s home providing preventive care. The minimum educational requirement to become a respiratory therapist is an associate degree, although a bachelor’s or master’s degree is highly preferable. There are literally hundreds of accredited respiratory therapy programs available today. They are offered at colleges and universities, medical schools, vocational/technical institutes, and the Armed Forces.

Most states require that respiratory therapists obtain a license before practicing. If you meet all the requirements you could sit for two certifications to add to your credentials – Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). Passing the CRT exam will qualify you as a respiratory therapist in most states. Most hospitals and employers may also need a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification as well. If you are planning a career in intensive-care or in a supervisory position, an RRT certification would be useful.

As America ages and the incidents of cardio pulmonary diseases keep increasing, the need for respiratory therapists increases as well. Thus, job opportunities are assured for students planning a career in respiratory therapy with hospitals still continuing to be the main employer of RTs. However, respiratory therapists can also look forward to working in home health care providers, private clinics, health care agencies, and educational establishments and even with respiratory equipment manufacturers. With medical advancements and technological developments, the demand for trained and skilled respiratory therapists is bound to show a steady growth curve in the future.