Respiratory Therapist

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Respiratory Therapist


For the majority of people, breathing is as natural as blinking. In fact, most people never even think about breathing, they just breathe. However, for those with lung problems, breathing can be a real struggle. These people include accident victims, premature babies with immature lungs, heart attack and stroke patients, or people who live with asthma and emphysema. When it comes to health care for people with breathing difficulties, a respiratory therapist will likely play a vital role in the patient's well-being and healthcare team.

Respiratory therapists (RTs) assist physicians in diagnosing, treating, educating and promoting wellness in patients who have respiratory and associated disorders. RTs help people with serious disorders get the oxygen they need. They understand how the heart and lungs work together to keep oxygen supplied to the body.

These therapists work with patients of all ages who have breathing problems associated with acute and chronic heart and lung disorders, sleep disorders, heart disease, trauma, high risk deliveries or organ system failures. However, respiratory therapists may decide to specialize in areas such as anesthesia, critical care, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary diagnostics and respiratory home care.

Respiratory therapists have a number of duties, which include maintaining an open airway for trauma, intensive care, and surgery patients and assisting with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and life support for patients who cannot breathe on their own. They may assist doctors with high risk births, such as premature labors, and help these infants into an incubator. RTs provide treatment to patients according to a doctor's orders. They use machines and apparatus like inhalers and nebulizers to deliver oxygen and medicine to the lungs. Since some patients cannot breathe on their own, ventilators force air directly into the lungs.

They might assist anesthesiologists in the operating room and administer inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication and oxygen. Overall, as therapists, they play an educative role, teaching people to manage their asthma or to quit smoking. Since smoking is a major cause of many lung diseases and cancers, the advocacy of quitting is an important lesson they teach.

Working as a respiratory therapist can often be full of adrenaline and stress. Since they treat many patients who stop breathing, these cases are a matter of life and death, which means that sometimes the patients do not survive. This is definitely the hardest part of the job. The flip side however, is the reward felt for saving so many lives.
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Programs Offered:
  • Respiratory Therapy



  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Respiratory therapists need great communication skills, and have the ability to work both independently and in health care teams. They have a genuine compassion and an interest in caring for others, and can think and act quickly in crisis situations. Therapists are organized and have good problem-solving skills. Finally, they are empathetic and sympathetic to their patients' needs and like to educate people on proper breathing techniques and lifestyle changes.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess patients' respiratory systems and perform breathing tests and blood gas tests
  • Develop respiratory treatment plans and evaluate patient progress
  • Operate and monitor respiratory equipment to administer treatments such as oxygen, oxygen-air mixtures, humidified air or medications
  • Administer medical gases and medications by aerosol therapy to manage and control breathing-related abnormalities
  • Perform continuous artificial respiration and external cardiac massage during the transportation of critically ill patients in emergency departments, intensive care units and operating rooms
  • Maintain and insert a variety of artificial airways
  • Operate, inspect, maintain and calibrate respiratory equipment (oxygen equipment, humidifiers, ventilators, anesthetic machines and blood gas analyzers) and make sure they are all working properly
  • Supervise and train students or other respiratory therapists
  • Participate in research related to cardiac and pulmonary disorders and keep records of the therapies and services provided
  • Educate patients about their conditions and teach appropriate disease management techniques, including how to use their medications and respiratory equipment
  • Respiratory therapists usually work in shifts, since patients may experience breathing problems at any time of the day or night, therefore they could be on call during the night, on the weekend and holidays. Respiratory therapists may spend the majority of their working hours on their feet in hospital operating and examining rooms. Therapists working in emergency or intensive-care units or in patients' homes may experience high levels of stress.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Respiratory therapists work in hospitals, medical clinics, respiratory home care companies, diagnostic laboratories, community care programs, educational institutions, asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and other clinics, research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and medical equipment sales and service companies.
  • Those who work in large hospitals might work in emergency departments, intensive care units, intensive care nursery units, chronic cardiopulmonary disease units, outpatient departments, operating theaters and recovery rooms, medical and surgical floors, pediatric units, case rooms and neonatal nurseries, pulmonary functions and blood-gas diagnostic areas, or in rapid transport of critically ill patients.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Respiratory therapists with years of experience may advance to clinical specialist or supervisory positions. However, due to the specified nature of the training and the limited education, without further schooling, other opportunities for advancement are limited.

  Educational Paths  
The educational route for becoming a respiratory therapist requires the completion of an approved college program that grants either an associate's or bachelor's degree. Respiratory therapists are licensed in 42 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Additionally MN requires registration and IL requires certification. The following states do not currently regulate the practice of respiratory therapy: AL, HI, MI, VT, WY, and AK.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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At Platt College, we encourage our students to follow their passions, wherever they may lie, to find a career they love. You’ll find a supportive learning environment and career-focused training designed to help you gain the knowledge and hands-on training you need to succeed. 
Programs Offered:
  • Respiratory Therapy

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