The lungs are among the body’s major organs, functioning by taking oxygen from the air from the atmosphere and transferring it to the bloodstream, thereby aiding in blood circulation. This function is what is known as respiration. Aside from respiration, the lungs are also responsible for maintaining pH balance (levels of acidity) in the body. They also act as filters, eliminating tiny air bubbles (embolisms) and small blood clots. The lungs likewise serve as a blood reservoir, with the capacity to hold anywhere from 500 to 1,000 ml of blood. The lungs’ interaction with the heart helps the heart function more efficiently.
Those are just some of the functions of the lungs. Because the lungs work hard to help the body function normally, they may be susceptible to “wear and tear,” thereby leading to respiratory and pulmonary diseases and infections. Such instances require respiratory therapy, which is the assessment and treatment of patients suffering from acute and chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system. The professionals who handle respiratory therapy are called respiratory therapists (RTs).
What Is a Respiratory Therapist?
As mentioned previously, RTs are professionals in pulmonary medicine who play a significant role in therapeutically treating patients with chronic pulmonary infections. Respiratory therapists are trained in advanced airway management; thus, they are responsible for maintaining the airway during trauma and intensive care with life-saving activities. To summarize the work of RTs, they specialize in providing healthcare for the lungs.
What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?
The most critical role of an RT in hospitals is inside the intensive care unit (ICU), where they provide mechanical ventilation for patients with breathing difficulty. An RT is well accustomed to the respiratory functions and emergency care medication for patients suffering from cardiac arrest or stroke. They are professionals experienced in diagnosing and treating both acute and chronic cardiopulmonary disorders.
Some of the RTs in hospitals are involved in counseling people on how to get rid of smoking habits and help diagnose patients with sleep apnea. Environment plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy and stable respiratory system. The upsurge in long-lasting diseases such as chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), and emphysema among the population have made respiratory therapy a vital part of patient care.
Duties and Responsibilities of Respiratory Therapists
Respiratory therapists are responsible for providing immediate critical respiratory care to premature infants requiring neonatal care geriatric patients suffering from severe cardiopulmonary diseases. Some of these duties and responsibilities include:
- Assessment and examination of patients with difficulty in breathing
- Determining lung capacity by measuring oxygen concentration
- Administration of medications through aerosol sprays — where patients inhale the medicines
- Consulting with physicians to develop treatment plans for patients
- Treating patients through various methods, including chest physiotherapy
- Monitoring and recording progress of treatment
- Supervising respiratory therapy technicians during tests and evaluating the results
- Teaching patients how to use treatments like nebulizers, etc.
The responsibilities of an RT are more challenging and critical while working inside a pediatric intensive care unit. Respiratory therapists play a significant role in the recovery of patients with chronic thoracic infections or patients who are recovering from a complicated cardiac surgery.
Laboratory Procedures Handled by Respiratory Therapists
An RT works in a hospital, generally under the supervision of a physician. They are responsible for respiratory care modalities such as:
- Oxygen therapy
- Breathing treatments
- Humidity-aerosol therapy
- Neonatal intensive care
- Emergency care during transportation of patients to the medical center
Tests Performed by Respiratory Therapists
Respiratory therapists are required to evaluate, treat, and assess patients. Evaluation is when the RTs interview patients regarding the discomfort, perform physical examinations and conduct diagnostic tests. Breathing tests are conducted to measure the volume of oxygen and other gases in the patient’s blood. An RT also determines blood pH levels.
Respiratory therapists perform chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from the patient’s body to reduce chest congestion. This procedure helps to treat patients suffering from lung disorders such as cystic fibrosis. Lung capacity is measured by spirometry, where the patient is allowed to breathe into a mouthpiece attached to a spirometer. The amount of oxygen or any other gases passing through lung alveoli per minute is measured by performing the gas diffusion test.
Equipment Used by Respiratory Therapists
Respiratory therapists use a blood-gas analyzer to determine oxygen, carbon dioxide, and blood pH levels from arterial blood samples of patients. Patients are given artificial breathing aid using ventilators, where RTs deliver pressurized oxygen into the lungs.
- Bronchoscopy system – This is used to determine the etiological background of the breathing trouble by visualizing the inner view of the patient’s lungs.
- Mechanical ventilator – This is artificial breathing support provided to patients who are unable to breathe.
- Indirect calorimeter – This is used to determine the patient’s nutritional status by analyzing the exhaled air.
Skills Required of Respiratory Therapists
Essential skills required for a respiratory therapist are critical thinking and problem-solving. Respiratory therapists should pay attention to every minute detail, as they need to continuously monitor patient’s medical conditions and treat them with utmost care. Most RTs have to work independently and need to communicate clearly with patients to follow the said instructions. Some skills and qualities necessary for RTs to do their job effectively are:
- Problem-solving skills
- Critical thinking
- Attention to details
- Interpersonal skills
Educational Requirements for an Aspiring Respiratory Therapist
If you aspire to become an RT, you must have graduated from high school or have GED. We are talking about an authentic high school diploma here and not a fake diploma from diploma mills. Some people maliciously submit fake diplomas when applying for an RT job, something you should never imitate lest you want to get in trouble.
You must also have an associate degree from a school recognized by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). After which, you must meet the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) eligibility requirements to obtain a license so you can start working as an RT.
Here are college degrees in order to help every professional grow as an RT in the medical career.
- Associate degree program – Several community colleges and schools in the US offer the associate degree program for respiratory therapy. The CoARC accredits the program, which includes theoretical and hands-on clinical experience sessions in various specialty regions. The program is scheduled for four to six full-time semesters, including clinical practice.
- Bachelor’s degree program – This is a four-year program that enables the students to get accustomed to the complex therapeutic procedures and plan treatment procedures with the doctors. The students are trained to make independent judgments and diagnose the patients with proper emergency care. Some of the subjects included in the bachelor’s degree course schedule are patient evaluation, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, critical care, special procedures, and pharmacology.
- Master’s degree program – The master’s program prepares the students for evaluating patient’s conditions and handling advanced technological procedures in complex respiratory care. The duration of the program is for two to three years. Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology, emergency medicine, mechanical ventilation, and advanced respiratory care are some of the areas of specialization in the master’s degree. In addition, respiratory care, health management, clinical trials, and leadership qualities are major categories in the syllabus.
How to Become a Respiratory Therapist
Allow us to reiterate that a fake high school diploma will not bring you a step closer to your dreams of becoming a respiratory therapist. Instead, it may only get you in trouble. The best way is to finish your secondary education and follow the necessary steps to become an RT.
To summarize, becoming an RT can be accomplished through five steps. These are:
- Enroll in an accredited respiratory therapist program.
- Complete either an associate or a bachelor’s degree.
- Take and complete a credentialing exam issued by the NBRC.
- Check out the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) for a list of state licensure contacts since you need to earn state licensure (except if you live in Alaska, which merely requires certification).
- Continue with further education to maintain your license or certification.
Certification and Licenses for Respiratory Therapists
All US states, except Alaska, demand respiratory therapist license candidates to complete an accredited degree program in respiratory care recognized by the CoARC. The curriculum for licensure RT program mainly includes community respiratory health, disease management, health promotion, legal and ethical aspects of critical respiratory care, and so on. Respiratory therapists are well-trained in the therapeutic care of infants, pediatric, and adult patients.
The NBRC provides two main certifications for the licensure of an RT, namely, the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).
How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median income for a respiratory therapist in 2021 is $65,116 annually. The lower 10% of RTs earn $51,526 a year, while experienced ones take home $76,819 every year.
Indeed, the career of an RT is lucrative, which is why many people aspire to become one. However, as we said previously, do not even try to become one with a fake diploma. There are legitimate sources of authentic degrees online, and you will be better off dealing with such providers because their degrees are verifiable. You can check over here to see how those providers work.