Among the millions who suffer from breathing problems and respiratory diseases, more than 400,000 deaths occur annually. Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners, evaluate, treat and monitor patients to improve their ability to breathe. Both titles apply to specialists trained in respiratory care. Hospitals tend to call the position respiratory therapist; long-term care facilities and government agencies prefer respiratory care practitioner, a term that also serves as an umbrella title for the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the population ages and new ways to treat breathing disorders and disease become available, the need for these health care professionals will grow.
Although people often use the titles interchangeably, the Healthcare Builder website defines respiratory therapists as hospital-based professionals and members of emergency care teams who work directly with physicians, while respiratory care practitioners handle routine care in nursing and patient homes. Both assess breathing ability and physical symptoms using pulse oximeters, spirometers and other devices. They set up ventilators and oxygen systems, fit oxygen masks for patient comfort and put patients on breathing machines when necessary. Monitoring patients' progress, charting their treatment data and inspecting their equipment are additional tasks. They work with patients ranging from premature babies to senior citizens.
Respiratory therapists can earn the associate degree they need at a vocational-technical school or community college. The program should be accredited and include classroom instruction and clinical training in a hospital. Classes that lead to a two-year degree include anatomy, physiology, chemistry and pharmacology. Career-specific courses cover patient assessment, tests, procedures, equipment and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A bachelor's degree can improve your employment potential.
As health care professionals, respiratory care practitioners must earn certification and obtain a license in the state where they work, with the exception of Alaska. The entry-level, certified respiratory therapist designation requires degree holders to pass an exam sponsored by the National Board for Respiratory Care. According to Kapi'olani Community College, 45 states require a CRT to qualify for a license. Those wanting to work in management, critical care and education positions should obtain registered respiratory therapist certification after earning the CRT.
The respiratory care field offers several areas of specialization Those who enjoy working with newborns, infants and children can earn a neonatal-pediatric specialist designation or become asthma educator certified through the National Asthma Educator Certification Board. Having the AE-C can be a plus for respiratory professionals concentrating on pulmonary rehabilitation to assist patients suffering from chronic lung problems. By passing an exam in polysomnography, or sleep study, to become a registered polysomnographic technologist, respiratory therapists can branch out into sleep medicine.
- American Thoracic Society: Breathing in America – Diseases, Progress and Hope
- O*Net Online: Respiratory Therapist
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition; Respiratory Therapists
- Healthcare Builder: Respiratory Therapist Career Resources
- Kapi'olani Community College: Respiratory Care Practitioner
- American Association for Respiratory Care: Specialties in Respiratory Care
- California Respiratory Care Board: Respiratory Care A Medical Career Giving a Breath of Life
- Contra Costa County Health Services Department: Respiratory Care Practitioner II
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