Many career opportunities exist for the qualified respiratory therapist. Also known as a respiratory specialist, or respiratory therapy technician, he or she is responsible for preventing, evaluating, and treating cardiopulmonary and breathing illnesses. Most respiratory therapists jobs take place in hospitals. These may be in the respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine departments.
Respiratory therapist jobs can also take place in a variety of other settings, such private physicians' offices, universities, laboratories, clinics, intensive care units, nursing facilities, and even in patients' homes. Within the intensive care unit, a respiratory specialist may work with the elderly as well as with infants or accident victims. Patients with lung disease, heart disease, and neuromuscular problems may also require respiratory therapy.
Most respiratory therapist jobs require standard work week. Schedules and shifts often vary, with some respiratory therapists working on-call. Some of the most common disorders that respiratory therapists may encounter include chest trauma, asthma, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, bronchitis, and emphysema.
Though duties vary depending on job location, respiratory therapist jobs typically include creating patient care plans, providing therapy specific to patient needs, and running diagnostic procedures. Some diagnostic procedures include sleep studies, stress and exercise testing, sputum specimen analysis, cardiac tests, and arterial blood gas analysis. A respiratory therapist may conduct a patient assessment, including taking a medical history, reviewing symptoms, and performing a basic medical exam.
An individual interested in respiratory therapist jobs may wish to study biology, physics, mathematics, health, and chemistry. He or she should also be comfortable working with the public. As a high-stress environment is sometimes part of the job, a person pursuing this career should be able to work under pressure, as well as alone, or with a team. Strong attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions are also key skills to have within this career.
In order to be a respiratory therapist, an Associate Degree is typically required. This can be obtained through a community or technical college, a university, medical school, or in the Armed Forces. People seeking respiratory therapist jobs in an advanced setting may wish to pursue a Bachelor's Degree. Some areas of study that future respiratory therapists may choose to take include mathematics, microbiology, pathophysiology, human anatomy and physiology, physics, pharmacology, and chemistry. Following a degree, licensure and certification are also typically required.
Largely due to the continual growth of the elderly population, respiratory therapist jobs are in high demand. Advances in treating premature babies and cardiopulmonary disease also contribute to the growth of this field. Other factors include the presence of smoking, and various environmental factors that may cause or worsen respiratory diseases.