How to Become a Respiratory Therapist: Job Description

The respiratory system is responsible for delivering oxygen to every small appendage and hidden cranny of the internal parts of the human body. It is comprised of many different working parts, from the mouth and the larynx to the lungs and the diaphragm. It is closely linked to heart function. This system is vital, but it is also vulnerable. It is by necessity connected to the external environment, with all of its bacteria and pollutants. There are a number of problems and diseases associated with the respiratory system. Respiratory therapists are the medical specialists that relieve pain associated with breathing and treat illness that attacks the system. It is a career full of responsibility and reward, including above-average earning opportunities. To find out how to become a respiratory therapist, it is useful to consider a job description of this profession.

Respiratory therapists work closely with other members of a health care team, most notably the consulting physician. Together they diagnose diseases and disorders of the lungs and other cardiopulmonary organs. The therapistís job is to oversee the course of treatment or therapy that has been decided upon by the team. Many times they deal with chronic breathing problems. They also treat damage to the lungs or other important organs. They may be called upon to treat or remove different bodily fluids form the respiratory system. There may also be administrative and teaching duties in the job.

One of the most common breathing problems is asthma. Asthma is a chronic lung problem causing inflammation of the lungs and the trachea and other pathways through which air travels. Asthma can be exacerbated by breathing in foreign substances, from pollen to air pollutants. Of the over 20 million Americans that suffer from asthma, about a quarter are children. Respiratory therapists are likely to work with many children and infants when they are treating asthma. There is no cure from asthma, but there are therapies and medicines that can calm attacks. Respiratory therapists help patients use inhalers and other medicines. They also consult with patients on the proper use and care of such equipment.

Respiratory therapists are also called in to work with patients who have respiratory issues related to a more significant or dire medical problem. Any number of problems can lead to breathing problems. A stroke or a heart attack can stop a person from breathing and a respiratory therapist may be called on to keep a person breathing during this time. Shock victims sometimes lose the ability to breathe naturally and must be helped. Respiratory therapists are often on-call in emergent situations.

When researching how to become a respiratory therapist, it is useful to look at the kinds of therapies and treatments available to these medical professionals. Respiratory therapists often use oxygen in their therapies so they must learn to use and deliver oxygen safely. Oxygen tanks present their own dangers, as they are highly explosive. It is also possible to give a patient too much oxygen, so therapists must study precautionary measures and safety procedures. Therapists also use chest physiotherapy to treat breathing issues and lung damage. This involves moving the patient and massaging and manipulating the rib cage and internal musculature. There are also medicinal and chemical therapies. Respiratory therapists should take coursework in pharmacology, learning dosages and side effects. They also must teach their chronically ill patients how to live with their conditions. This might include teaching families how to use respirators and asthma inhalers. Therapists must be licensed by the state and licensure requires them to get a formal education in these therapies.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014