A respiratory therapist is a specialized member of the health care team, caring for and treating patients of all ages — ranging from the premature infant with immature lungs to the geriatric patient with complex medical problems affecting many organs.

Respiratory therapists can be found almost everywhere. They may perform diagnostic testing to determine lung function in the outpatient setting, perform sleep studies in the sleep lab, provide mechanical ventilation or advanced airway management in the operating room or emergency department. They are also part of the highly specialized and skilled team caring for patients in the intensive care unit.

A long, challenging road

After graduating from a nationally accredited respiratory therapy program, candidates apply and sit for a National Board for Respiratory Care examination. Passing candidates earn credentials as either Certified Respiratory Therapists or Registered Respiratory Therapists. A license to practice respiratory therapy in the state in which they reside and work is also required.

Therapists also have the opportunity to earn advanced specialty credentials in the areas of pulmonary function technology, sleep disorders testing and therapeutic intervention, adult critical care and/or neonatal pediatrics. These specialty credentials are indications that the therapist possesses the knowledge and skills to provide care at the highest level in a specialized area of medicine.

Many tasks

The primary role of the respiratory care practitioner is helping patients breathe better — one patient at a time. Respiratory therapists are involved with multiple pulmonary organizations striving to improve the quality of life for patients with chronic pulmonary conditions including asthma, cystic fibrosis, neuromuscular disorders and other chronic lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

The duties of a respiratory therapist include airway management, disease management, patient education, pulmonary rehabilitation, student education and research.

In addition to these duties, respiratory therapists also assist physicians in the care and treatment of patients with sudden acute diseases affecting the lungs. More than anything else, respiratory therapists provide care in a compassionate manner that shows just how much they care about what happens to their patients.