Respiratory Therapy

Definition

Class of 2014 - 10 peopleRespiratory therapy is the health care discipline that specializes in the promotion of optimum cardiopulmonary function and health.  Respiratory therapists employ scientific principles to identify, treat, and prevent acute or chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system.  Their knowledge of the scientific principles underlying cardiopulmonary physiology and pathophysiology, as well as biomedical engineering and technology enable them to effectively assess, educate, and treat patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.  Shown to the right is the Class of 2014.

As a health care profession, Respiratory therapy is practiced under medical direction.  Respiratory Care is specifically focused on the prevention, assessment, treatment management, control, diagnostic evaluation, education, and care of patients with deficiences and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system.  Critical thinking, patient/environment assessment skills, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines enable respiratory therapists to develop and implement effective care plans, patient-driven protocols, disease-based clinical pathways, and disease management programs.

In addition to entry level skills, advanced level therapists participate in clinical decision making and patient education, health promotion, diseases prevention and disease management.  Although they practice under the supervision of a physician, they are required to exercise considerable independent judgment in providing respiratory therapy to patients.

Respiratory Therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing; for example, from a chronic lung disease, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, or emphysema or other respiratory disorders, such as pneumonia or chronic heart failure.  Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs.  They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, stroke, drowning, or shock.

Duties

Respiratory therapists typically do the following:

  • Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
  • Consult with physicians to develop patient care plans
  • Perform diagnostic tests such as measuring lung capacity and peak expiratory flow rates
  • Treat patients, using a variety of methods, including oxygen therapy and aerosolized medication delivery
  • Monitor and record the progress of care

Places to Work

  • Acute care hospitals
  • Sleep disorder centers and diagnostic laboratories
  • Long-term acute care facilities
  • Rehabilitation, research, and skilled nursing facilities
  • Patients' homes
  • Patient transport systems
  • Physician offices
  • Convalescent and retirement homes
  • Educational institutions
  • Medical equipment companies and suppliers
  • Wellness centers

Job Outlook

Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 28 percent by 2020.  Growth in the elderly population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions.  Most of the demand for respiratory therapy services will be in hospitals and nursing homes.  Other conditions such as smoking and air pollution, will continue to create demand for therapists.

To learn more about the profession, visit the American Association for Respiratory Care website at: www.aarc.org