Demand for respiratory therapists is expected to increase 21 percent in the next decade. Anticipated advances in treatments will extend the lives of patients who have experienced breathing problems, suffered heart attacks or were accident victims. In addition, individuals in this vocational career path will be needed during the next decade to assist in the expected increase in older patients, who have a higher tendency to suffer from pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease.
More and more, individuals in this vocational career are doing the work that they presently give to respiratory therapy technicians, whom they supervise. But doctors prefer that respiratory therapists be given tasks such as performing routine tests and routine monitoring.
Individuals in this vocational career path work under the direction of a physician in performing tests to determine patients' breathing capabilities, and they also administer respiratory treatments. An example of a test they may perform would be measuring the concentration of oxygen or other gases in the blood. Respiratory therapists may also measure the level of acidity or alkalinity of the blood. With test results, they then work with doctors and other medical professionals to develop a treatment program for patients.
Respiratory treatments involve the use of ventilators, oxygen devices and other tools to assist patients' breathing, sometimes in the capacity of life support. Some medications are administered in aerosol form into the lungs. For patients with pneumonia, bronchitis or other types of infections a suction device will remove mucus from the lungs.
Individuals in this profession may work in an emergency room or in an intensive care unit of a hospital. Others may work in assisted care facilities or in private homes. And they work with patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly.
Although individuals in this profession practice under the direction of a physician, they are responsible for all therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures. Particularly in an emergency or intensive care environment, they must observe how patients respond to treatments. And since their purpose is to make sure patients can breathe and that oxygen is adequately reaching the brain and other organs of the body they must adjust treatments minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour to meet the needs of patients.
Another task in this job is teaching patients how to do aerosol treatments or to manage a portable oxygen system if a patient needs more extended respiratory support.
The average starting salary for this job is $42,165 annually with the potential to earn up to $71,920 annually. Benefits are usually provided by the hospitals or care centers that employ them.
Presently 107,270 individuals are employed in this vocational career, and over the next 10 years, 41,400 jobs will become available. Jobs are available in populated areas throughout the country at a fairly even rate. Eighty-one percent of individuals in this profession are employed by hospitals.
Individuals may enter this profession with an associate's degree in the field. The National Board for Respiratory Care administers the certification test for individuals to become Certified Respiratory Therapists (CPT). Some individuals become CPTs through training in the U.S. military.
To be qualified for advancements in the field, individuals must complete a bachelor's degree. They must pass two separate exams administered by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care to become Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT). In order to work in a supervisory capacity or to work in an intensive care specialty, individuals must be RRTs.
Some individuals specialize in a particular emphasis within the profession, such as working in neonatal intensive care units that assist premature infants or infants with life-threatening birth defects. To achieve this, they find a way to gain cardiopulmonary skills and skills working with infants, which assist in qualifying them for advancement.
Because of the life-threatening condition of many of their patients, all individuals in this profession are required to maintain CPR certification.
Since most individuals in this profession work in hospitals, they may work a variety of shifts including day, swing, graveyard, weekends and holidays. They may work part-time or full-time, although the majority work in a full-time capacity.
This job involves working in a team environment with doctors, nurses and other heath care professionals to diagnose patients' conditions, determine effective treatments, and monitor patients' successes.
So much of a patient's progress in life-threatening situations involves how the patient is doing emotionally. Individuals in this profession need to have an excellent bedside manner to help put patients at ease. They must have a gentle touch and a compassionate heart, but they must also have an inner strength in order to handle frequent life-or-death situations.
Individuals in this profession must wear protective clothing, gloves, masks and sometimes eyewear to protect themselves from infectious diseases. They are on their feet most of the time, so it is important to wear shoes that are comfortable and that will support the feet. In addition, since they may need to help lift or move a patient, they must be able to lift 50 pounds or more.
Basic Office Skills Required
Individuals in this vocational career prepare written reports for doctors that describe patients' test results. Basic spelling, grammar and punctuation skills are needed for these reports. Typing, data entry and ten-key skills are also needed, as well as a working knowledge of MS Word to prepare documents and MS Outlook to email them. Basic math skills are also needed to calculate oxygen levels in the lungs and the blood.
Verbal communication and phone skills, as well as a proficiency in speaking English are also needed for this job. Because they work in a team environment, individuals need to be able to complete tasks in association with other tasks and be able to meet deadlines.
Respiratory therapists have a promising vocational career path with additional demand in the next ten years because of the anticipated increase of patients, increased responsibilities and improvements in technology that will lengthen the lives of accident victims and individuals with breathing conditions. Individuals who are compassionate and who enjoy assisting people do well in this profession.
A Respiratory Therapist's Typical Work Day
As a certified respiratory therapist, Carmen has an intense vocational career but one that allows her to help people in a special way. Through the use of ventilators, oxygen devices and other tools, she is able to help patients breathe when they are unable to do so themselves.
With her present certification, Carmen provides breathing assistance to patients whose breathing is impaired from such conditions as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Using a suction device, she removes mucous from the lungs. She also teaches patients how to use aerosol inhalers as well as portable oxygen delivery systems as doctors prescribe. Carmen works closely with doctors, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and other medical professionals in determining and administering treatment to patients.
Carmen's goal is to become a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), which will qualify her to work in the intensive care unit with critically ill patients. She is presently back in school to complete a bachelor's degree and to prepare for the two certification tests she must pass. She goes to school during the day and works at her local hospital in the evenings and on weekends in 10-hour shifts. She keeps a busy schedule for sure, but she loves her work. It is very rewarding to provide assistance to patients in a way that they cannot do themselves.
Carmen first became aware of this vocational career when she became friends with an RRT. It is a job that many don't know about unless they or a close family member has experienced some kind of serious breathing problem. Her friend works mostly with premature infants whose lungs have not fully developed. The woman inserts a breathing tube down an infant's trachea and spends hours and hours monitoring a baby's progress. In some cases, an infant's mother is ever present, and in other cases, the mother is not around. Her friend's compassion and motherly instincts for the babies is often just as important to the babies' survival as the breathing assistance she provides. Whenever possible, her friend spends time holding the babies. Carmen hopes to have the chance to work with infants in such a capacity when she becomes an RRT.
Family is very important to Carmen, and perhaps that is why she can relate with most of her patients, both young and old. Being able to breathe is such a rudimentary part of life that you take for granted until you can't breathe well. That's when it impairs every part of your life. Even getting the air knocked out of you for a short time is scary, and that isn't something you forget easily. Carmen's job is to help patients with long-term breathing problems feel more at ease and to protect the health of other organs in their bodies by making sure they are inhaling an adequate amount of oxygen.
Respiratory therapists often deal with patients who are in life-threatening situations, and Carmen knows she has more gratitude for her life and the lives of her family members because of her vocational career.