Respiratory Therapy Professions Video: Becoming a Respiratory Care Professional

Respiratory Therapy Professions Video: Becoming a Respiratory Care Professional Transcript

Imagine breathing through a drinking straw, never able to take a deep breath. That's often the life of a patient with a chronic cardiopulmonary or respiratory illness. Respiratory therapist aid in the treatment and diagnosis of these life-threatening diseases. Using biomedical engineering technologies, modern medicines and advanced diagnostic equipment, respiratory technicians work closely with physicians and patients in hospitals and private clinics around the country.


Respiratory illnesses, like asthma and pneumonia, can be debilitating or even deadly. Working alongside physicians, respiratory therapists help to diagnose and treat these, and other, ailments. Through associate's degree programs and professional licensing exams, a student can become a certified respiratory therapist (CRT). A master's degree and additional testing results in the registered respiratory therapist (RRT) certification and advanced career opportunities.

Job Duties and Skills

Using aerosolized medications, breathable gas mixtures and physiotherapy, respiratory therapists work to stabilize their patients' respiration in order to provide relief from the symptoms of chronic and acute ailments. Working with physicians, respiratory therapists evaluate patients and develop a diagnosis and treatment plan. A respiratory therapist monitors a patient's reaction to medication and treatment, then make adjustment to levels of medication and other treatments as needed.

Analyzing oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in a patient's bloodstream is one of the most common procedures performed by respiratory therapists. Known as a blood-gas test, respiratory therapists draw blood from their patient, analyze it in a machine designed for just this purpose and provide the results to a physician, who can adjust treatment accordingly. Many respiratory therapists also act as educators, teaching patients how to manage their symptoms at home without the supervision of a physician.

Training Required

All respiratory therapists must complete an associate's degree program in Respiratory Therapy or a related field. These programs combine general coursework on human anatomy and physiology, with an in-depth examination of medical record keeping, respiratory disease prevention and treatment, CPR, diagnostic examinations and commonly used medical equipment. Students work in a hospital or clinical setting alongside an experienced respiratory therapist to learn the hands-on skills.

In all states, except Alaska and Hawaii, respiratory therapists must be licensed in order to practice and treat patients. Most state license requirements are based upon the guidelines set by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which include successful completion of an accredited degree program and a written examination. A current CPR certification is required for most positions. Those who meet all requirements are given the title of Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). Once certified, Respiratory Therapists must periodically renew their license through written exams and continuing education credits.

The NBRC also awards an advanced certification known as the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). This certification is available to certified respiratory therapists who have completed an advanced degree program and have passed two additional examinations. The RRT certification is required for administrative positions as well as some intensive-care specialties.

Career Options

Respiratory therapists generally begin their careers in general practice. With experience, many respiratory therapists will begin to focus their interests and skills towards working with a specific set of patients or a specific disease. Cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia and lung cancer are among the most common specialties for respiratory therapists. Opportunities also exist for respiratory therapists interested in treating pediatric or geriatric patients. Experience in respiratory therapy can lead to administrative and supervisory positions. These positions require less direct patient contact and treatment, instead focusing on the logistics of operating a respiratory therapy department and managing a team of respiratory therapists. These specialized and advanced positions will often require the advanced RRT certification.

While nearly 80% of respiratory therapists are employed in a hospital setting, opportunities do exist outside the walls of these larger healthcare providers. Other positions may be found in smaller private clinics and hospices, or as home health aides.

The field of respiratory therapy relies on technologically advanced equipment used to monitor breathing rates and oxygen concentrations, dispense medicine and provide treatment to patients. The makers of these machines often hire technically skilled respiratory therapists to install and maintain equipment and to train respiratory therapists in its use. These careers involve virtually no patient care but often require significant regional and national travel.


Respiration therapists hold a specific but important role in the scope of the medical world. If this work interests you, you may find it to be a rewarding and fulfilling career.


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