Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory Therapists Overview

Many job openings will be available to respiratory therapists in hospitals. Respiratory therapists looking to advance in their careers should obtain a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree, even though an associate’s degree is the minimum educational requirement. Respiratory therapists are required to be licensed other than in Alaska and Hawaii.

Nature of the Work for Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists work to treat, evaluate and care for patients with breathing problems as well as those with cardiopulmonary disorders. Also known as respiratory care practitioners, respiratory therapists practice under a physician yet assume all responsibility for respiratory care therapeutic treatments and procedures; Respiratory therapists can make judgments independently such as those caring for patients on life support as well as work with physicians to develop and modify care plans.

Patients range from infants with premature lungs to elderly people with diseased lungs. Respiratory therapists can also work with patients with chronic asthma or emphysema to provide temporary relief as well as those who have had a heart attack, stroke or drowned to give emergency care to.

The work of a respiratory therapist includes interviewing patients and conducting diagnostic tests, while limited physical examinations are performed. They may evaluate a patient’s lung capacity or measure a patient’s pH. Respiratory therapists will treat patients by using oxygen or oxygen mixtures, physiotherapy, and aerosol medications. Respiratory therapists will also regularly assess patients and equipment.

Respiratory therapists will perform chest physiotherapy on patients; help remove mucus from patients’ lungs, and position patients to help them remove this mucus from their lunges. Patients may need chest physiotherapy if they have recently undergone surgery to help them stabilize and normalize the condition they received surgery for. Those suffering from lung disease as well as collecting mucus in their lungs may turn to chest physiotherapy to help them.

Ventilators may also be used by respiratory therapists working in home care and may also make emergency visits if equipment isn’t working correctly.

The usually workweek for a respiratory therapist is 35 to 40 hours. Some respiratory therapists who work in hospitals can work nights, evenings, and weekends. Standing and long periods of walking are also a part of a respiratory therapist’s job. Respiratory therapists working patients’ homes must also include travel time when calculating the hours they work each week.

Respiratory therapists may become exposed to infectious diseases and are trained to work with gases stored under pressure. Adhering to safety precautions and regular maintenance can minimize these risks.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Respiratory Therapists

A bachelor’s degree or master’s degree is preferred by most employers, but an associate’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for respiratory therapists.

Respiratory therapists can access training at colleges and universities, medical schools, vocational-technical institutes and the Armed Forces. There are few associate-degree programs that help respiratory therapists find entry-level jobs.

In respiratory therapy programs, many respiratory therapists study human anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology or mathematics. Other courses can train respiratory therapists in clinical practice guidelines and patient care outside of hospitals.

Other than Alaska and Hawaii, all States require respiratory therapists to be licensed. Many employers also require their respiratory therapist to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Obtaining a license is usually based on meeting requirements from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Respiratory therapists who graduate from an entry-level or advanced program accredited by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or CAAHEP can also become certified.

Attention to detail, working in teams, computer proficiency and sensitivity are important qualifications for respiratory therapists.

Respiratory therapists can advance in their career by moving from general care to working with critically ill patients, moving to supervisory or managerial positions, becoming branch managers in home healthcare or equipment rental firms or moving into teaching positions.

Employment and Job Outlook for Respiratory Therapists

Out of the 107,270 jobs held by respiratory therapists about 81 percent work in hospitals.

Job growth for respiratory therapists is expected to grow 21 percent. Due to the growth in the middle-aged and elderly population, more job opportunities will be available for respiratory therapists. Job opportunities will also increase due to advances in inhalable medications, increases in heart attacks, premature infants, and those who have been in an accident. Those who suffer from respiratory ailments as well as cardiopulmonary disease will also attribute to the need for more respiratory therapists.

Respiratory therapists with a bachelor’s degree and certification will have the most job opportunities. Those with cardiopulmonary care skills as well as infant experience will also have access to more job opportunities. Most of these job openings will be in hospitals while many respiratory therapists choose to work in home healthcare services, consumer-goods rental firms, physicians’ offices or as temporary workers.

Earnings and Salary for Respiratory Therapists

Median annual wages of wage-and-salary respiratory therapists are $53,330. The middle 50 percent earn between $45,300 and $62,570. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $39,030 and the highest 10 percent earn more than $71,920.

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