What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

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We're exploring the world of breathing experts — Respiratory Therapists. They are crucial in helping people regain their respiratory health. So, if you're curious about a career that combines compassion, critical skills, and making a positive impact, read on!

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What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist (RT) specializes in helping patients of all ages breathe better. They work under the direction of doctors to diagnose and treat various respiratory conditions. They help people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung infections, and more. From newborns with undeveloped lungs to seniors with chronic diseases, RTs provide crucial care.

What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

RTs help design treatment strategies to restore the best natural breathing functions. What does a typical day look like as an RT? You'll work on a diverse range of responsibilities. Here's a sneak peek of some of the duties and responsibilities you may need to perform:

  • Patient assessment and examination: Meet and examine patients with respiratory conditions, diseases, or complications.

  • Diagnostic and function tests: Conduct, perform, and analyze tests to assess lung capacity and function.

  • Collaborative treatment planning: Work alongside physicians and nurses to develop comprehensive treatment plans.

  • Medication administration and therapy: Provide aerosol medications, chest physiotherapy, and administer inhalants to patients.

  • Treatment progress evaluation: Monitor and evaluate the progress of patients’ treatment plans.

  • Mechanical equipment operation: Operate mechanical ventilators and other respiratory care equipment.

  • Documentation and record keeping: Maintain accurate patient records and update charts to track care provided.

  • Discharge planning and team collaboration: Work with the medical team for discharge planning and post-treatment care.

  • Patient education and training: Train patients in self-administering treatments and using respiratory equipment.

  • Equipment and treatment recommendations: Recommend suitable equipment and treatments for outpatient or home health settings.

  • Infection control and safety protocols: Strictly follow protocols to ensure patient and healthcare employee safety.

What qualities do I need to have as an RT?

A blend of great qualities is your secret recipe to excel in this dynamic role. Imagine being the calm, supportive presence patients need during challenging times while staying laser-focused on their care. To make you the breathing hero patients can rely on, you should be:

  • Kind: As an RT, you should show care and support to patients during treatment, understanding their needs.

  • Keen on details: You must give the right treatments and medicines. Recording information about patient care is essential, and you must do it carefully.

  • Amiable: Talking to patients and working in a team is crucial. Listening to others, like doctors, and working together well is essential.

  • Patient: As an RT, you will spend much time with patients needing extra care. Being extra patient helps them feel comfortable.

  • Problem-solver: It is essential as you will look at patients' problems, talk with other healthcare workers, and choose and give the best treatments.

How to become a Respiratory Therapist?

Curious about the journey to becoming an RT? For those of you who love a clear path, check out this journey in simple steps:

  1. Get an HS diploma or equivalent: You must graduate or earn a GED. If you're currently in high school and planning to apply to respiratory therapy programs, you should take biology, algebra, chemistry, and physics courses.

  2. Complete a training program: You must have at least an Associate's degree in Respiratory Care from a school approved by the American Medical Association (AMA) and accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). You can also pursue a Bachelor of Health Science in Respiratory Care, as some employers prefer hiring candidates with a bachelor's degree. These programs take two to four years to complete.

  3. Gain hands-on experience: In respiratory therapy programs, you'll learn about the human body, how it works, and ways to treat patients. You'll study tests and procedures and get hands-on practice in real healthcare settings.

  4. Earn your state license or certification: RTs need a license in most states, which means passing a test.  To find out exactly what you need, contact your state's health board.

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What are the two levels of certification for RTs?

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) certifies respiratory therapists, and they offer two levels of certification: the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Let’s learn more about these certifications.

  • CRT - This certification is a requirement to practice as a licensed respiratory therapist. After completing your Associate’s degree in Respiratory Care, you can sit for the Therapist Multiple-Choice Exam (TMC). This national credentialing exam assesses your ability, knowledge, and competencies in respiratory therapy. 

  • RRT - Passing the CRT with a high score will make you eligible for the Clinical Sims Exam (CSE). This separate board exam will award you the RRT credential.  Some employers require that you earn RRT certification before working or within a specified period on the job.

Where can I work as a CRT? What are the perks?

As an RT, your journey doesn't stop at hospitals. You have options to choose from because you can work in:

  • Hospitals and clinics;

  • Home healthcare;

  • Nursing homes;

  • Pulmonary rehab centers, and

  • Emergency rooms.

And the rewards? They're as amazing as the job itself. You’ll enjoy the following:

  • Competitive salaries. As of May 2021, RTs earned a median annual wage of $61,830, showcasing the rewarding financial aspect of this fulfilling profession.

  • Job stability and growth. The demand for RTs will surge by 14 percent, surpassing the average growth rate for most professions. This remarkable projection highlights the thriving opportunities awaiting those considering a career in this field.

  • Making a significant impact on lives. With your ability to work harmoniously within a healthcare team, you'll be breathing life into your career every step of the way. 

Is becoming a respiratory therapist a good career choice?

Becoming a respiratory therapist is an excellent career choice. With a growing demand for respiratory care due to an aging population and increased awareness of respiratory health, this profession offers a promising future.

As an RT, you will enjoy job stability, competitive salaries, and opportunities to work in diverse healthcare settings. If you're seeking a rewarding career that combines compassion, critical skills, and a chance to contribute to public health, becoming a respiratory therapist could be your path. Start your journey today and let your breathtaking career begin!

Fel Gonzaga
Written by
Fel Gonzaga

Fel is a student support representative who guides enrollees to the right program and answers their queries. She's committed to helping students and takes pride in her work. In her free time, she enjoys sightseeing and hanging out with loved ones.

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