Respiratory Therapist

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Respiratory Therapist   More Names
Cardiopulmonary Technician and EEG Tech (Cardiopulmonary Technician and Electroencephalogram Technician), Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), Clinical Coordinator of Respiratory Therapy, Inhalation Therapist, Oxygen Therapist, Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP), Respiratory Therapist (RT), Respiratory Therapists, Respiratory Therapy Director, Staff Respiratory Therapist, Staff Therapist

Under the direction of physicians, assess, treat and care for patients with acute and chronic breathing disorders. Develop and implement respiratory care plans for patients, participate in clinical decision-making, utilize evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, and participate in health promotion, disease prevention, and disease management. Respiratory therapists work in a wide variety of settings including hospitals that provide acute, chronic, sub-acute, and extended care. They also work in rehabilitation facilities, clinics; physician's offices; home care; sleep labs; diagnostic and research labs. Some are employed in industry as researchers, clinical specialists and sales representatives. Colleges and universities with respiratory therapy programs also employ therapists as members of their faculty.

Respiratory therapists evaluate, treat, and manage patients of all ages with respiratory illnesses and other cardio-pulmonary disorders ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people whose lungs are diseased. When providing clinical respiratory care, they may be required to exercise considerable independent judgment.

In providing care to respiratory patients, respiratory therapists may perform a wide-range of activities and procedures. For example, they may conduct patient interviews, perform physical examinations and review medical records to acquire and evaluate clinical data relevant to diagnosis cardiopulmonary disorders and treatment of prescribed respiratory care. They also may assess the current cardiopulmonary status of patients.

Respiratory therapists perform and assist in prescribed diagnostic studies, such as obtaining blood samples, blood gas analysis, pulmonary function testing, and polysomnography (sleep disorder) testing. They administer medications via inhalation and make sure that the medication delivery equipment is appropriate for each patient. They help to ensure that each patient gets the most benefit from their inhaled medication by teaching them proper techniques.

Respiratory therapists provide oxygen therapy to patients assuring that the device and amount of oxygen are matched to the needs of the patient. They participate in life support activities that maintain cardiopulmonary function in critically ill patients. They initiate and conduct prescribed pulmonary rehabilitation for patients.

Case management of patients with cardiopulmonary and related diseases represents another group of tasks performed by respiratory therapists. They may initiate prescribed respiratory care treatments, evaluate and monitor patient responses to such therapy, and modify the prescribed therapy, as needed, to achieve the desired therapeutic objectives.

Respiratory therapists also may provide emergency care, including artificial ventilation, airway management and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In this capacity, they may be members of surface and air transport teams for patients as well as part of rapid-response medical teams in hospitals.

Respiratory therapists also perform patient, family, and community counseling and education services, working to promote tobacco cessation, cardiopulmonary wellness, disease prevention, and disease management.

Respiratory therapists are trained to work with gases stored under pressure. Adherence to safety precautions and regular maintenance and testing of equipment minimize the risk of injury. As in many other health occupations, respiratory therapists are exposed to infectious diseases, but by carefully following proper procedures, they can minimize these risks.

Respiratory therapist is an entry-level to mid-level step on a respiratory treatment career ladder. Respiratory therapists advance in clinical practice by moving from general care to the care of critically ill patients who have significant problems in other body systems, such as the heart or kidneys. Those with a bachelor's or master's degree also may advance to supervisory or managerial positions in a respiratory therapy department.

Satisfying the education and credentialing requirements as a respiratory therapist is also a way for those who currently work as respiratory therapy technicians to advance in the respiratory therapy field. The respiratory therapy technician career is in transition. Over the past decade most employers that used to hire respiratory therapy technicians now are hiring respiratory therapists instead.

Credentials Needed: A state license is required to practice as a respiratory therapist in 49 of the 50 states (except Alaska) as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Licensure is often based on meeting the requirements for certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). A list with links of state licensing agencies for respiratory therapy is available on the NBRC website under State Licensing. Most employers require respiratory therapists to also maintain a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. CPR certification training is available through the American Heart Association and American Red Cross.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) as a voluntary industry-based credential to those who graduate from an entry-level or advanced education and training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) and also pass the CRT certification examination. The NBRC also awards the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) to those CRT certification holders who have graduated from advanced programs and pass two additional examinations. Supervisory positions and hospital intensive-care specialties usually require the RRT. In addition, the NBRC sponsors other specialty and advanced certifications for respiratory therapists.

The NBRC is the principal organization in the United States responsible for providing voluntary credentialing examinations for practitioners of respiratory therapy and pulmonary function technologies. The NBRC states that it works to establish standards to credential practitioners who work under medical direction; issue certificates and prepare directories of credentialed individuals; promote the use of respiratory care in treating human ailments; support ethical and educational standards in respiratory care; and cooperate with accrediting agencies to support respiratory care education. Over the past four decades, the NBRC has issued more than 350,000 professional credentials to more than 209,000 individuals, and currently tests nearly 40,000 candidates annually.

Some Key Things to Remember: Respiratory therapists assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders, working under the direction of physicians. They are primarily responsible for all respiratory care tasks, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians. They initiate and conduct therapeutic procedures, monitor patient treatment responses, and respond to emergency respiratory situations. A two-year associate's degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited education and training program is the minimum requirement for becoming an entry-level respiratory therapist. A state license is required to practice as a respiratory therapist in 49 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Reviewed for content and accuracy by the American Association for Respiratory Care, April 16, 2012.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
12% - Average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $49,340 - $70,650    Hourly: $24 - $34
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

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Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

12% - Average
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Typical Wages:

Annual: $49,340 - $70,650

Hourly: $24 - $34