Respiratory Therapist

Job Description


Respiratory therapists work with patients suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, such as emphysema, bronchitis, COPD and asthma.

They also provide emergency care to people suffering heart attacks, drowning or shock. Those recovering from heart attacks or who suffer from sleep disorders, as well as premature infants may benefit from the services of a respiratory therapist to help them breathe more easily.




A respiratory therapist must rely on the knowledge of scientific principles of cardiopulmonary physiology and pathophysiology, in conjunction with biomedical engineering and technology, to effectively evaluate, educate, and treat patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.

Respiratory therapists practice under medical direction and as an integral part of the medical team.

Those with advanced level training take part in clinical decision-making and patient education. They devise and implement treatment plans and protocols, participate in health and wellness education programs, devise, and implement disease-prevention programs and work with patients to manage disease processes.

Adequate assessment skills and clinical practice guidelines based on evidence-based research enable respiratory therapists to devise and implement comprehensive care plans, therapy delivery protocols, and effective disease management programs.

Common responsibilities that fall to the Respiratory Therapist may include:

  • Diagnosing breathing and lung disorders, then recommending appropriate treatment methods

  • Interviewing patients and performing physical examinations of the chest to recommend the best therapy for the patient’s condition

  • Consulting with physicians to adjust or change a patient’s therapy based on the patient evaluation

  • Analyzing samples of tissue, breath and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases

  • Ventilator and artificial airway device management for patients who need mechanical assistance to breathe

  • Responding to emergency, “Code Blue” or urgent calls for care

  • Education of patients and their families about lung diseases and how to maximize recovery




While respiratory therapists practice under the supervision of physician, they can exercise a large degree of independent judgment when providing respiratory therapy to their patients, so they must call on a litany of skills.

Respiratory therapists are required to utilize critical thinking skills, among others, to evaluate their patients and the environment in which their patients live.

Since their environment and field is constantly changing, respiratory therapists must be able to adapt and change with the technology and times.

They must call on their patience and empathy to deal with frustrated, sick patients who may be challenging to work with and might take a while to see results.

They must also be able to work independently and be good at calling the shots, organization, planning, management, and scheduling, because they can work alone at the patients' houses.

Similarly, they must be good at working on a team because many practice on teams in hospital environments.

A respiratory therapist must also have an impeccable attention to detail to enable them to assess patients needs, administer correct treatment, and be in-tune with their ever changing environments. 


Working Conditions


A respiratory therapist with an experienced resume may find their career options opening to wider opportunities, especially if they are employed by a hospital.

Exceptional respiratory therapists can move up the ladder from staff therapist to a shift supervisor, or higher to respiratory therapy department manager.

Some respiratory therapists even move into the ranks of hospital administration and other high levels of management.

Respiratory therapists are an active part of home health care industry, and many have moved on to open their own respiratory home healthcare companies.

These businesses provide respiratory diagnostic services, including education on patient care, instruction on in-home use of respiratory equipment and other services related to the field. Many work in close conjunction with home health nursing care services.

In the corporate world, respiratory therapists are finding employment in the fields of equipment manufacture and marketing specialists.

These companies are seeking employees with the technical knowledge and patient care experience that respiratory therapists bring to the table.

The most common venues where respiratory therapy services are offered include:

  • Acute care hospitals, where the majority of respiratory therapists are employed

  • Diagnostic laboratories

  • Rehabilitation centers, long-term acute care facilities and skilled nursing centers

  • Sleep disorder and study centers

  • Patients’ personal homes

  • Patient transport systems

  • In physician offices

  • Retirement, convalescent and swing-bed centers

  • Wellness centers

  • Educational institutions

  • Medical device manufacturers



Salary Outlook