How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

A respiratory therapist tests, diagnoses, and treats patients suffering from an illness which affects breathing and lung capacity.

They work under the supervision of a qualified physician to provide a range of treatments.

If you are interested in health and wanting a career in medicine that works directly with people then you might like to become a respiratory therapist.

These professionals work in many different situations, some work in emergency care, while others provide long-term rehabilitation for patients.

When you become a respiratory therapist you could find yourself working with a wide range of clients.

From infants who have lung development problems, to elderly people suffering degenerative conditions like emphysema.

This is certainly a challenging role which also offers a high level of job satisfaction that comes from providing assistance to others and seeing positive results from patients.

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Educational Requirements to Become a Respiratory Therapist

The minimum requirement to become a respiratory therapist is a two year associates degree.

This can be completed at vocational school.

More and more programs in respiratory therapy are becoming available at colleges, with some opting to take a four year bachelor degree course instead.

Physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, and pharmacology all form a part of the coursework required in these programs.

If you’re a high school student, you might like to study subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.

If your school offers any courses in health promotion then you might like to enroll in these also.

Having some work experience with people will also help if you would like to become a respiratory therapist.

If you can get a part-time job in health care then this is excellent.

You could also volunteer at a nursing home or health care center in your neighborhood.

Respiratory Therapist Job Description

When you become a respiratory therapist you will work with a wide range of patients, both young and old.

Some therapists work in emergency situations, for example evaluating the breathing of a person in cardiac arrest, and providing drugs and oxygen to help them breathe as normally as possible.

Other respiratory therapists work in a clinical setting.

They may see a wide range of patients who have respiratory problems ranging from a developmental disorder, degenerative diseases affecting the lungs, or a condition such as asthma.

In this situation the respiratory therapist will perform a range of clinical tests to form a diagnosis and will then form a treatment plan.

Treatment can take a wide range of formats.

It could include chest physiotherapy, oxygen treatment, aerosol medications, or gentle exercises which help breathing.

A treatment plan may take simply one visit, or may require many follow-ups with the respiratory therapist.

Here are some of the tasks of a respiratory therapist:

  • Meeting with patients
  • Interviews patients
  • Taking a medical history
  • Reviewing physicians notes
  • Performing tests
  • Sending away for blood work
  • Forming a diagnosis
  • Creating a treatment plan
  • Performing chest physiotherapy
  • Prescribing aerosol medications
  • Prescribing oxygen therapy

Respiratory Therapist Salary and Career Path

In all states except Alaska and Hawaii, you are required to be licensed to become a respiratory therapist.

Licensing requires an accredited degree or associates program, as well as an admissions test in some states.

Once your licensure is complete, you can begin work as a respiratory therapist.

Many work in hospitals, some in consulting suites, and others in nursing homes.

As you gain experience, you may move on to deal exclusively with patients who are critically ill.

Some respiratory therapists go on to research new medications and treatments for respiratory conditions.

The median salary for a respiratory therapist is $52,000 a year.

These specialists enjoy good job security, and there is also good growth in this field.

As the population ages there will be more demand for health services such as this.

For more information about this career path, take a look at the American Association for Respiratory Care website.

Some similar roles to respiratory therapist that might interest you include:

  • Athletic trainer
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Registered nurse

If you are looking for a secure role in medicine that works closely with people, then you might like to become a respiratory therapist.

There are lots of opportunities, good working conditions, and benefits available to those who pursue this career.

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