Respiratory Therapist Job Description

Though respiratory therapist job duties can vary from one career to the next, in general respiratory therapists assist patients who suffer from conditions related to breathing. These may range from minor, short-term conditions such as bronchitis to chronic conditions such as asthma and emphysema. They may even include traumatic conditions such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and other cardiopulmonary conditions.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

Respiratory therapists usually work in acute care hospitals, but they may also be found in environments such as:

  • Nursing Homes
  • Outpatient Care Centers
  • Surgical Hospitals
  • Specialty Hospitals and Clinics
  • Home Care Organizations
  • Sleep Disorder Clinics
  • Patient Transport Systems

Respiratory therapists treat all age groups, from infants to the elderly. Typically work under a physician supervisor, respiratory therapists evaluate, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of breathing disorders. In many cases, they are given substantial freedom to use their own judgment when it comes to treatment plans.

Some basic respiratory therapist job duties are:

  • Interviewing and examining patients regarding their respiratory ailments
  • Diagnosing respiratory ailments
  • Testing patient lung capacities
  • Analyzing the levels of oxygen and other gases in a patient’s blood
  • Examining test results and identifying issues
  • Removing mucus and other fluids from patient’s lungs
  • Clearing patients’ airways of physical obstructions
  • Educating patients on lung health and disease prevention
  • Instructing patients on the use of inhalers and other respiratory tools
  • Providing emergency resuscitation in cases of ceased breathing
  • Determining patient treatment plans with supervising physician

Respiratory Therapist Tools

Respiratory therapists may make regular use of testing devices and tools such as:

Asthma Inhalers – These small, handheld instruments provide a dose of medication that is inhaled by the patient to open airways and prevent asthma attacks.

Ventilators – For patients who are unable to breathe on their own, ventilators pump oxygen into the lungs to maintain normal breathing. They are often used for patients who are in a coma.

Volumetric Exercisers – These devices measure a patient’s lung power as the patient breathes into a tube. They can also be used to help train patients on lung strengthening exercises.

Blood Gas Analyzers – Respiratory therapists use these computerized measuring devices to indicate the oxygen level in a patient’s blood. Levels below a certain threshold (such as 95%) indicate a problem with oxygen intake.

Suction Devices – If a patient is suffering from excess fluid within the lungs, such as with pneumonia or some types of internal bleeding, a suction device may be used to remove fluid and enable improved breathing.

Respiratory Therapist Career Options

Once applicants complete the respiratory therapist registration process by passing their state’s licensing exam, they can begin working. This is a mandatory step for all states but Alaska.

Respiratory therapists can also take optional career-enhancing steps such as earning a certification. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers two types of certification applicants can earn by demonstrating their knowledge of the respiratory therapist job description. A certification is a good way for a respiratory therapist to prove their skills to an employer and secure a higher salary.

Also see: