A respiratory therapist is a healthcare provider who specializes in therapy that helps maintain or improve lung function. During your appointment, your respiratory therapist will examine your medical history, perform tests and work with you to develop and implement a treatment plan.
A respiratory therapist (RT) is a healthcare provider who helps diagnose, treat and manage conditions that affect your lungs. They aren’t doctors, but they work alongside physicians and other healthcare providers to develop treatment plans to help restore or maintain lung and breathing function.
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Respiratory therapists help treat people of all ages who have breathing (respiratory) issues. These problems may arise as a result of:
They may teach you about lung disease to maximize your recovery. The care you receive from a respiratory therapist may occur in an inpatient healthcare facility, outpatient clinic or your home.
Some procedures that RTs perform include:
Some of the most common respiratory conditions that a respiratory therapist may treat include:
To become a respiratory therapist, you must:
Respiratory therapy programs can be challenging. You must be good in math and science. You must study, complete homework and projects, get good grades and perform well during clinical rotations. During clinical rotations, a practicing respiratory therapist and/or other medical professionals supervise you as you learn and practice respiratory therapy. During your clinical rotations, you may:
A healthcare provider may refer you to a respiratory therapist if you have symptoms that affect your breathing or lungs. These may include:
During your first visit, your respiratory therapist will:
Pros of being a respiratory therapist include:
Cons of being a respiratory therapist include:
Like all other jobs, there are pros and cons to being a respiratory therapist. If you’re looking for a stable career in a field that experts predict will continue to grow, being a respiratory therapist may be a good job for you. Many respiratory therapists also feel personal satisfaction knowing that they’re helping others.
Respiratory therapists help diagnose and treat conditions that affect your breathing and lungs. They must receive an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited college or university.
Nurses are also licensed healthcare professionals that must receive an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) or graduate-level degree in nursing (nurse practitioner, or NP) from an accredited nursing program. They may perform basic medical tasks, including:
Nurses can focus on respiratory conditions but may also specialize in other areas.
Nurses and respiratory therapists require virtually the same level of education. Both positions also require you to renew your license every few years.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Respiratory therapists are healthcare providers who specialize in caring for your lungs and treating conditions that affect your breathing. Your primary care provider or another provider may refer you to a respiratory therapist while you’re in the hospital, in the emergency department or as an outpatient. They may work together to help develop a treatment plan.
If you have any questions, your respiratory therapist is there to help. They want to help you treat or manage your condition in the best way possible and support you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2023.
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