Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists, also called respiratory care practitioners, examine, treat, and assist patients with cardiopulmonary and other respiratory problems. Under the guidance of doctors, respiratory therapists are assigned respiratory treatment and diagnostic duties. They also manage respiratory therapy technicians and meet with doctors and other medical specialists to develop and alter care plans for patients. Additionally, respiratory therapists perform complex treatments where they’re responsible for exercising independent judgment, including treating patients housed in intensive-care units and those receiving other forms of life support.

Respiratory therapists examine and treat various patients, which includes infants with breathing problems and elderly patients with lung disease. They administer treatments to patients with emphysema and chronic asthma, and those who’ve suffered strokes, heart attacks, severe trauma, and other serious cardiopulmonary problems.

Respiratory therapists conduct patient interviews, administer minor physical tests, and perform diagnostic examinations. They frequently perform tests to determine oxygen concentration, breathing capacity, and the presence of certain gases in the respiratory system. Additionally, they conduct tests to measure pH, which is meant to determine the acidity of patients’ blood. To measure lung capacity, respiratory therapists ask patients to breathe into a specialized device that measures oxygen flow and volume when patients in and exhale. After this test is administered, respiratory therapists compare test results with normal figures corresponding to a patient’s sex, weight, height, and age to determine whether lung problems exist. To measure blood pH, carbon dioxide, and oxygen levels respiratory therapists take an arterial blood sample and analyze it within a specialized machine called a blood gas analyzer. After test results are received, therapists submit them to a doctor to make medical a medical diagnosis.

Education and Training

To qualify for an entry-level position, an associate’s degree is required. Respiratory therapists with bachelor’s and graduate degrees enjoy better career growth opportunities. In every state, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, respiratory therapists are required to be licensed.

The military, vocational schools, medical schools, and colleges and universities offer respiratory therapy training programs. Most students graduate with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. Graduates will be well-prepared to begin graduate programs in respiratory therapy. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has reported that 346 advanced respiratory therapy training programs are currently accredited across the nation.

Job Outlook

Better than average job growth has been projected in the field of respiratory therapy. As a result, respiratory therapists should have excellent job opportunities.

Job growth for respiratory therapists is estimated to increase by 21 percent through 2018, a better than average growth rate. Demand will be spurred by aging populations requiring therapy for cardiopulmonary disorders. Job growth will also be attributed to increased emphasis placed on disease prevention, early detection of serious respiratory problems, and emergency treatments.

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