A respiratory therapist (RT) is a certified medical professional who specializes in providing healthcare for your lungs. They have advanced knowledge of high-tech equipment, such as mechanical ventilators. RTs work alongside doctors and nurses. They practice in many medical facilities, including emergency rooms, maternity wards, and therapy offices. Some RTs care for people in their own homes.
Respiratory therapists help improve outcomes for people with asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, lung trauma, and other diagnoses. RTs can assess your breathing, recommend exercises, and monitor your progress.
Types of respiratory therapy
There are several main types of respiratory therapy. An RT may specialize in one or more of these types.
Emergency respiratory therapy
This kind of respiratory therapy happens in a hospital. RTs provide assistance with emergency room cases and help people recover from heart surgery or lung failure. Some RTs assist doctors during complicated surgeries. They also treat pneumonia. A big part of emergency respiratory therapy involves ventilators. RTs manage or initiate life support for those who need it.
Adult respiratory therapy
Adult respiratory therapy takes place in a hospital, outpatient, or home setting. An RT may assist with routine care for the maintenance of chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. Adult respiratory therapy often involves the treatment of emphysema. RTs are sometimes in charge of programs that help adults quit smoking.
Pulmonary rehabilitation helps the lungs regain more breathing capacity after a surgery or traumatic event. This kind of therapy may be provided outside of the hospital by an RT. They also work in sleep labs to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea.
Pediatric respiratory therapy
Pediatric RTs focus on newborn and childhood cardiopulmonary issues. Sometimes they work in a hospital, where they care for patients in inpatient units including babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. Some pediatric RTs offer outpatient care for children and adolescents with asthma.
Hospitals frequently have pediatric emergency transport teams that take newborns or children to different facilities by ambulance or helicopter. The teams are generally made up of a nurse and an RT.
Geriatric respiratory therapy
As we age, so do our lungs. Sometimes respiratory therapy can help increase breathing efficiency for older people. Respiratory tract infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bronchial pneumonia are diseases that a person over the age of 65 is likely to encounter. Geriatric respiratory therapy happens at a hospital, an outpatient facility, or a person’s home.
How to know if you need an RT
RTs can become necessary in many situations. In almost every case, a primary care physician, pediatrician, or emergency room doctor will let you know if you need an RT. Some populations are more likely to need respiratory therapy. Adults over 65 and adults who smoke are the people that need RTs most. Premature babies often receive care from RTs as well.
What to know when looking for a respiratory therapist
It typically takes between two and four years to become an RT. RTs need to complete an accredited associate degree program and pass a national exam to become a certified respiratory therapist, or CRT. RTs also need a license to practice. The American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) provides this license.
The second year of the program is clinical practice. This happens hands-on in a hospital or therapy facility. Recently, the AARC has moved toward only allowing four-year programs to be accredited.
A good RT needs to be intelligent and intuitive. RTs often have the difficult task of providing life support for individuals who may not survive. A good RT will feel patience and compassion for families of those individuals.
RTs are asked to work long, irregular hours, so they need to have a high energy level. They also need a good work ethic to provide for the needs of their patients. RTs should have a passion for learning, because technology in this field is always getting better.
Talking to your doctor about seeing an RT
Your doctor may have already spoken to you about respiratory therapy. People with chronic lung disease or those who have been in the hospital for a while sometimes need respiratory therapy. Speak to your doctor if you feel you would benefit from this type of therapy.