Spotlight on: Respiratory therapists

Have you considered becoming a respiratory therapist?If you want to work in health care but aren’t sure that a nursing career is right for you, perhaps you should consider completing a respiratory care program. Respiratory therapists use their skills to help people who have trouble breathing and work with everyone from infants to senior citizens.1 This can be a particularly rewarding career if you struggle with respiratory problems, like asthma, yourself.

What do respiratory therapists do?

On a typical day, respiratory therapists may interview and examine patients with breathing issues, consult with doctors to help develop treatment plans, perform diagnostic tests and monitor and record the progress of those treatments.2 In general, respiratory therapists work with people who have heart and lung problems like emphysema, chronic bronchitis or cystic fibrosis.3 Tasks may include providing emergency care such as artificial respiration, external cardiac massage, or assistance with CPR. Following physician’s orders, drawing and measurement of arterial blood gases, and the set up and operation of devices such as mechanical ventilators all fall within the daily scope of practice of RT’s. 4

What sort of education do I need?

All respiratory therapists must earn an associate or a bachelor’s degree. Respiratory care programs should include a clinical component that will allow you to gain credit for supervised, on-the-job experience. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska, although requirements vary by state.5

What is the work environment like?

Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals full time.6 However, some choose to work in home care, which often involves teaching patients and their families how to use ventilators and other life-support systems.2 The respiratory care practitioner can work in acute care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, long term adult care hospitals, pulmonary rehabilitation clinics, sleep labs, pulmonary physician offices, and even home care.

How is the job outlook?

The job outlook for respiratory therapists is bright, with employment projected to grow 28 percent between 2010 and 2020 – that’s 14 percent faster than average. The median annual salary for respiratory therapists in 2012 was approximately $55,800 per year.6 It has also been ranked the No. 13 best health care job by U.S. News & World Report.8

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘What Respiratory Therapists Do,’ April 6, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-2
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘What Respiratory Therapists Do,’ April 6, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-2
3 U.S. News & World Report, ‘Best Healthcare Jobs: Respiratory Therapist,’ 2013 – http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/respiratory-therapist
4National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1126.00. O*NET OnLine. http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1126.00
5Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘How to Become a Respiratory Therapist,’ April 6, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-4
6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Work Environment,’ April 6, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-3
7 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Respiratory Therapists: Summary,’ April 6, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-1
8 U.S. News & World Report, ‘Best Healthcare Jobs: Respiratory Therapist,’ 2013 – http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/respiratory-therapist

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