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What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

Thinking about a career in the health industry? The need for respiratory therapists is growing, and so could your career. These highly skilled and in-demand health care professionals can literally help people to breathe easy. If you have a keen interest in science and math, and enjoy solving problems in a fast-paced environment, this might be an excellent career choice for you.

Just breathe

Respiratory therapists work with infants, children, and adults who have breathing or cardiovascular disorders, and might provide emergency care for people suffering from shock or cardiac arrest. As a respiratory therapist, you might also work with people who have long-term therapy needs, such as those suffering from asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, or lung disease. You might even work with patients to help them stop smoking. You might work one-on-one with a patient, or be part of a medical team in an emergency or surgical environment.

This is a hands-on position that requires excellent communication and technical skills. Respiratory therapists can conduct physical examinations, medical tests, and treat patients with oxygen, ventilators, or medications.

A high level of training is required in order to embark upon this career path, and aspiring respiratory therapists must earn at least an associate degree, obtain a license from the National Board for Respiratory Care, and earn and maintain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

As a student in this discipline, you may complete coursework in the following subjects:
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
Waiting to exhale

Most respiratory therapists work for hospitals, though some do work in nursing homes or for home health care services. As the U.S. population ages, the need for respiratory therapists will increase. Additionally, as pharmaceutical and medical technology evolves, particularly in the field of inhalable medications, the demand for respiratory therapists will further increase.

This can be a lucrative career choice, especially if you earn a bachelor's degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the need for respiratory therapists will grow by 21 percent, with the majority of opportunities continuing to be in hospitals.

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