There are four different respiratory therapist careers: outpatient care, acute care, teaching, and department manager. A respiratory therapist is a member of the health services team specially trained in respiratory illness and conditions. In the United States, all therapists must pass the Certified Respiratory Therapist Exam (CRT). This written exam is organized by the National Board for Respiratory Care and tests the candidates’ knowledge of respiratory system, treatments, and their assessment skills.
Most respiratory therapist careers start in outpatient care. A home health care or government agency employs respiratory therapists to treat patients with long-term chronic respiratory diseases. These patients can live in their own homes, long-term care facilities, or rehabilitation centers. A driver’s license is very useful for this first career opportunity, as the therapist is required to travel to the client's location.
Acute care respiratory therapists work in emergency departments of large hospitals. They are called in to evaluate patients with chronic respiratory distress, difficulty breathing, or a breathing related injury. As a specialist in the respiratory system, she is able to quickly assess the situation and determine if there are any immediate steps that can be taken to reduce discomfort and help the patient.
After a minimum of ten years working experience, many people expand their respiratory therapist careers into teaching. Instructor opportunities are available in community and career colleges. In order to qualify for these opportunities, it is a good idea to complete a certificate in adult education. This additional training provides the techniques necessary to become an effective instructor.
Additional training is often required to advance respiratory therapist careers to management level positions. Relevant programs include a master of business administration (MBA) degree, or a certificate in management. Both these training opportunities can be completed part time, during the evening and weekend hours. There are multiple opportunities to expand and enhance your career, but it is important to realize that all careers will have an aspect of patient interaction. People who report the highest degree of satisfaction with respiratory therapist careers enjoy helping others, are responsible, and have a deep commitment to service.
Although many of their tasks are performed independently, the respiratory therapist is part of the health services team. It is important to have strong communication and teamwork skills to succeed in this role. Patients who rely on respiratory therapy are medically fragile, or suffer with multiple conditions. Coordination and communication helps both the patient and the rest of the team ensure that the appropriate level of care is provided.