Respiratory therapists- also known as respiratory care practitioners- evaluate, treat, and care for patients of all ages with respiratory issues and other cardiopulmonary disorders. Respiratory therapists operate under a physician’s direction and assume primary responsibility for respiratory care treatments and diagnostics and also supervise Respiratory Therapy Technicians. They develop and modify patient care plans by consulting with doctors and other health care professionals. Respiratory therapists also provide complex treatment therapy; such as caring for patients in intensive care or on life support that requires sound judgments.
Job Description and Work Environment
Pediatric, Adult, and Geriatric patients all fall under the scope of care for this position. They provide relief temporarily to patients suffering from asthma or emphysema and give care to emergency patients who have been victims of drowning, shock, stroke, or heart attack. Respiratory therapists conduct patient interviews and diagnostic tests to determine a patient’s breathing and lung capacity and gasses in the blood to ensure that a proper treatment plan is established. To treat patients, therapists will perform consistent assessments on both them and equipment. They will use mediations on patients that have been prescribed by a doctor and show those patients how to take the medication. If a patient cannot breathe on their own, a respiratory therapist will put them on a ventilator deliver regulated oxygen to that patients lungs.
Respiratory therapists also perform chest physiotherapy on patients. This is done to allow the patient to breathe easier by removing mucus from their lungs. The patient will lie in a position to help drain mucus. Then the therapist will tap on the chest to vibrate the rib cage and will ask the patient to begin coughing. This is used for patients with lung diseases that collect mucus and also may be necessary after a patient has surgery, as anesthesia causes respiratory depression.
Hours for a respiratory therapist can vary, but are usually 40 hours a week with differing shifts. If they work at a facility such as a hospital, then therapists are needed during all hours of the night and day. In this setting, therapists stand during long periods in patient rooms. They are often in stressful situations arising from the care of critical patients. In the home health setting, a respiratory therapist will travel to patient homes to assist in taking inhaled medication, assess equipment, and provide patients with disease information and treatment.
Career Advancement and Salary Information
Respiratory therapists can advance, especially with a bachelors or masters degree, by moving to general care to critical care, where patients have issues in other organ systems. With a degree, advancement into a supervision or management position is a great move and some respiratory therapists may even move into an educational role. In home care therapists may advance into a branch manager or supervision position, as well.
The average salary for a Respiratory Therapist is $40,000 to $60,000 per year. The low end is around $35,000 and the high end salary is $70,000, depending on education and advancement.