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Respiratory Therapist Degree: Respiratory Therapy, Respiratory Therapist Schools, Education Program

A respiratory therapist is also known as a respiratory care practitioner, and is involved with treating, caring, and evaluating patients with breathing problems and other cardiopulmonary disorders. A respiratory therapist may be involved with supervising respiratory therapy technicians, as well as providing procedure and direction for physicians. A respiratory therapist will consult with physician identify and create patient care plans, and provide complex therapy to various clients. They are commonly involved with work in life support and intensive-care units of hospitals. A respiratory therapist education program allows students to obtain hands-on training and learn clinical procedures in depth. 

Job Description and Responsibilities of a Respiratory Therapist

After completing a respiratory therapist education program, graduates of respiratory school are commonly involved with:

  • Performing physical examinations
  • Conducting diagnostic tests
  • Determining the oxygen and gas concentration of a patients' blood
  • Measuring patients' pH to determine alkalinity or acidity
  • Analyzing oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH levels
  • Treating patients with chest physiotherapy and aerosol medication
  • Performing assessments of patients and equipment
  • Making emergency visits as needed

Some hospitals provide a specialized respiratory therapy program or training initiative to help a respiratory therapist further enhance their skills and experience. A respiratory therapist may expand into areas of smoking cessation and counseling, case management, and disease prevention. They are also commonly involved with treating patients in need of critical care, and may work a part of a rapid-response team in a hospital, clinic, or emergency room setting.

Career Options After Respiratory School

Respiratory school provides the foundation for a rewarding career as a respiratory therapist, and formal training is required to enter the field. After completing a respiratory therapist education, students may choose to work as a:

  • Respiratory therapist supervisor
  • Respiratory therapist technician
  • Registered nurse
  • Radiation therapist
  • Respiratory therapist assistant

Since the nature of work in respiratory therapy is fast paced and constantly changing, the respiratory therapist must learn how to work under pressure, make quick and effective decisions, and remain calm in emergency situations. They must also become proficient in administering medication and learning how to identify respiratory problems in their patients. Evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients is a standard part of their daily work.

Respiratory Therapist Education and Training with a Respiratory Therapy Program

Since formal training is required to enter the field, many associate's degree programs offer students a chance to gain a basic understanding and training they need to excel. A bachelor's degree for a respiratory therapy program provides additional training and options for certification. An entry-level respiratory therapist can begin working as a technician or assistant, and can advance in their career with continuing education and experience.

The most common respiratory therapy program courses include training in:

  • Human anatomy
  • Pathophysiology
  • Physics
  • Microbiology
  • Mathematics
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Clinical Practice Guidelines
  • Medical Recordkeeping
  • Respiratory Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Respiratory Therapy Certification

Respiratory therapy schools provide both fundamental and in-depth training in the field of respiratory therapy.  Certification and registrant is another opportunity for a respiratory therapist to advance in their career. All States require a respiratory therapist to obtain a license, and they can do this immediately after passing the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam. Most employers require a respiratory therapist to maintain a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification as well.

A comprehensive respiratory therapy program may include opportunities to complete certification and registration. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers both certification and registration to graduates so accredited respiratory therapy schools. The Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) are the two credentials available after completing a respiratory therapist education program. Graduates of respiratory therapy schools are qualified to take the CRT examination which can then lead to advanced-level programs and the RRT credential.

Respiratory School Preparation

A prospective respiratory therapist needs to be strong in high school courses including physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Taking human biology and anatomy courses will also help with studies towards an associate's degree program in respiratory school. The field of psychology and communication are both important for advancing in the career with success. A respiratory therapist can advance in their career by moving into a teaching position, or take on a supervisor or managerial role within their department. More comprehensive programs may be available through formal training at respiratory therapist schools. Learn more about becoming a respiratory therapist.

Respiratory Therapist School Accreditation

The Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is responsible for accrediting respiratory therapist schools and each respiratory therapy program.

Respiratory Therapist Earning Potential and Employment Prospects

Job opportunities and employment prospects for a respiratory therapist career look promising, and this position is expected to grow faster than average through 2014. The demand for experienced professionals in health care is increasing rapidly, and the range of roles and duties available to the respiratory therapist may also increase to include case management, emergency care, and disease prevention. More Americans are in need of lung transplants, medication assistance, and dealing with conditions of chronic bronchitis. A respiratory therapist can help alleviate and diagnose these conditions and provide medication to overcome the challenges involved.

Median annual earnings for a respiratory therapist were $43,140 in 2004.  A respiratory therapist technician earned approximately $36,740 in that same year.


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