What Respiratory Therapists Do

Respiratory therapists (RTs), also known as respiratory care practitioners (RCP), are trained to aid physicians in the evaluation, diagnosis, and care of patients with cardiopulmonary problems.

Such patients include those with emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiac failure, and chest trauma.

The focus is on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients suffering from diseases of the cardiopulmonary system. RTs serve as members of cardiac arrest and trauma admission teams or home care providers. They are committed to respiratory wellness and disease prevention and are often found administering family asthma and freedom from nicotine programs. Patients of all ages are treated by RTs, from premature infants in respiratory distress to senior citizens with end-stage ventilator failure.

Respiratory therapists (RTs) are trained as “physician-extenders” and are a very important part of a healthcare team. As the name implies, respiratory therapists treat patients with problems related to breathing, such as issues of people suffering from lung disease. They are patient care managers who not only determine the need for respiratory care services but actually administer that care directly to patients.

RTs manage clinical resources (staff and equipment), can provide home care (sub-acute) services, and treat patients recovering from surgery. They often work with patients from the time of their admission through the time they leave the hospital. RTs can expect to have close interaction with patients' families.

When working in an intensive care unit, you will grow accustomed to seeing people in critical situations, while simultaneously experiencing the deep satisfaction that comes from saving lives. To be a respiratory therapist, you need to have a great deal of compassion for other people.

RTs perform a variety of procedures such as:

  • Giving medication and aerosol therapy
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Blood gas determinations
  • Airway management
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Maneuvers designed to facilitate removal of secretions from the lungs

Types of Respiratory Therapy

  • Critical care
  • Acute care (hospital)
  • Emergency care
  • Adult
  • Pediatric
  • Outpatient / homecare

Types of Work Environments

  • Intensive care
  • General hospital floors
  • Rehabilitation center
  • Sub-acute unit
  • Home care
  • Pediatrics
  • Pulmonary function lab

Personality Traits

  • Willingness to work irregular hours
  • Compassion
  • Sacrifice
  • Passion to continue learning
  • Enjoy teamwork
  • Excellent work ethic

Education Requirements

  • Two-year education program, second year is clinicals
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist: 2- and 4-year college programs
  • Must be licensed by state

Salary Range

According to salary.com, the median salary for respiratory therapists is approximately $76,400 per year.

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