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Health Care Team (HCT)

Therapists

Respiratory Therapist
  • Diagnoses and treats patients suffering from respiratory problems.
  • Conducts pulmonary tests, interviews patients, and performs chest physical examinations to determine the best treatment.
  • Responds to “Code Blue” (cardiopulmonary arrest) or other urgent calls for care.
  • Works under the direction of a physician or medical director, depending on the setting.
  • Usually treats patients with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), as well as patients recovering from surgery, and patients who are acutely ill and on ventilators.
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  Who is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory Therapists provide hands-on care to people with pulmonary problems.

  What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

Respiratory Therapists diagnose and treat respiratory problems in:

  • hospitals, giving breathing treatments to people with asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • intensive care units, managing ventilators that keep the critically ill alive
  • emergency rooms, delivering life-saving care
  • newborn and pediatric units, helping children with conditions ranging from premature birth to cystic fibrosis
  • patients’ homes, providing regular check-ups and making sure people have what they need to stay out of the hospital
  • sleep laboratories, helping to diagnose disorders like destructive sleep apnea
  • skilled nursing facilities and pulmonary rehabilitation programs, helping patients to breathe easier and get more out of life
  • doctors’ offices, conducting pulmonary function tests and providing patient education
  • asthma education programs, helping children and adults learn to manage their asthma
  • smoking cessation programs, assisting those who want to kick the habit for good
  • air transport and ambulance services, rushing to rescue people in need of immediate medical attention
  • case management programs, helping devise long-term care plans for patients

  What education, training, and experience must one have to function as a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory Therapists may enter the field and obtain a license to practice with an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree.

  How and by whom is a Respiratory Therapist supervised?

All Respiratory Therapists work under the direction of a physician. In hospitals, most work in a respiratory care department that has a Respiratory Therapist acting as the director of the department and a physician who is the medical director.

  What are the typical day-to-day activities of a Respiratory Therapist?

On a typical day, a Respiratory Therapist may:

  • diagnose lung and breathing disorders and recommend treatment methods
  • interview patients and perform chest physical exams to determine what kind of therapy is best for their conditions
  • consult with physicians to recommend a change in therapy, based on evaluation of the patient
  • analyze breathing ability and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases
  • manage ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients who cannot breathe normally on their own
  • respond to “Code Blue” (cardiopulmonary arrest) or other urgent calls for care
  • educate patients and families about lung disease to help maximize their recovery

  Must a Respiratory Therapist be licensed or certified to function in his or her role as part of the health care team?

Most hospitals require Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credentials. These credentials, awarded by the National Board for Respiratory Care, are recognized nationally.

  What types of patients would benefit from the care of a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory Therapists treat patients of all ages if there is a breathing problem associated with a patient’s condition. Patients with asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), patients recovering from surgery, and those who are acutely ill and on ventilators would most likely be treated by a Respiratory Therapist.

  Professional organization for Respiratory Therapists

Contributed by:
Sherry Milligan, MBA, American Association for Respiratory Care

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Last updated June 4, 2012.
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