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How to Become a Respiratory Therapist - The Sawyer School

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

How to become a Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists primarily provide medical care to patients with breathing difficulties. However, they also work with patients who have cardiopulmonary disorders, drowning victims, and those in shock. Some respiratory therapists specialize in a particular type of respiratory care, but the general job duties of this occupation include:

  • Working with physicians to create treatment plans for patients
  • Examine and diagnose patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary issues
  • Measure lung capacity using various diagnostic tools
  • Prescribe treatments for breathing issues such as physiotherapy or medication
  • Monitor and record patient progress
  • Educate patients about their condition and how to use treatments
  • Supervise technicians and evaluate findings

A respiratory therapist may also be called upon to connect patients who are not able to breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the lungs. They also perform chest physiotherapy to dislodge and remove mucus to improve lung function. Some respiratory therapists provide in-home care where they teach patients how to operate their breathing equipment, check the machines to make sure they are operating correctly, and educate patients on how to use their medications.

It is not uncommon to find respiratory therapists in related healthcare areas such as smoking cessation or diagnosing sleep apnea.

Respiratory Therapist Training

The minimum education required to enter the respiratory therapy field is an associate’s degree. However, employers prefer to hire people who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. A person can obtain a formal education in this subject at a college or university, vocational-technical schools, and the Armed Forces. Obtaining a degree can take between 2 to 4 years.

The types of classes you can expect to take in this program include anatomy, microbiology, mathematics, physiology, and pharmacology. You will be taught how to perform diagnostic testing, use and maintain respiratory equipment, assess patients, and CPR. Typically students will have a chance to attain hands-on experience working in a supervised clinical setting.

Alaska is the only state that doesn’t require respiratory therapists to be licensed. In all other states, you must pass a state or professional certification test to receive a license to practice. Although not mandatory, you can also obtain additional certification from accrediting respiratory therapy organizations such as the National Board for Respiratory Care. This particular organization offers two credentials: the Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist. More information about these credentials can be obtained from the organization’s website.

Personal Qualities

Detail oriented: Medicine is not an exact science, but it is important to mind the details when treating patients to ensure they receive the best care possible.

Interpersonal skills: In addition to working with patients, respiratory therapists often work as part of a medical team. Knowing how to interact with a wide variety of people is the key to being a successful respiratory therapist.

Problem-solving skills: Like other healthcare providers, you must be able to evaluate and analyze a patient’s condition and recommend or implement the right treatments.

Science and math skills: You will be administering medication and must know how to calculate the correct dose for the patient. In addition to that, you must have a good grasp of biology, anatomy, and physiology.

Respiratory Therapist Job description

The majority of respiratory therapists work in hospitals. However, some work in nursing care facilities and others primarily provide at-home care. This occupation requires you to be on your feet for long hours and have the physical strength to turn and move disabled patients. You will also be exposed to infectious diseases, but can minimize the risk of contracting one by following standard safety protocols.

Respiratory therapists work full time. Medical care is needed at all hours of the day and night, so you can expect to work evenings, overnights, weekends, and even holidays. You may be required to work on-call.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

Though the average wage for respiratory therapists is $54,280, this varies according to employer. Nursing care facilities paid the most at $57,450 followed by home health care services ($55,960), hospitals ($54,210), and physician offices ($52,500). The top 10% in the industry takes home $73,410 while the lowest paid 10% earns $39,990 per year.

Additional benefits may be offered to supplement wages such as health insurance, paid leave, and contributions to a retirement fund. Here’s a more detailed page about your potential salary, written by a Registered Respiratory Therapist with over 25 years experience.

Job Outlook

There were approximately 112,700 people employed as respiratory therapists in 2010. The industry is expected to grow faster than the average rate for all occupations. By 2020, there should be about 28% more jobs. The growth is fueled by an aging population as well as reduced air quality that contribute to the onset of respiratory diseases like asthma and lung cancer. People with bachelor’s degrees and experience will have the best job pro