How Do I Become a Respiratory Therapist?

If you have an interest in healthcare and feel empathy for patients with breathing problems, you might wonder how to become a respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals who focus on respiration, or breathing. They diagnose the causes and extent of respiratory problems and treat patients with medications and therapies intended to improve respiratory function. Employment opportunities for respiratory therapists exist in hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and home health services.

Respiratory therapists help patients of all ages who are suffering with breathing problems due to chronic respiratory diseases or injuries that damage the lungs. They talk to patients to understand the breathing problems they are experiencing and perform tests to evaluate lung capacity. If mucus buildup inside the chest is contributing to a patient’s respiratory problems, a respiratory therapist performs a procedure called chest physiotherapy to help remove the mucus. They also monitor and adjust the use of ventilators, machines that help patients who do not have the lung functioning required to breathe on their own get the oxygen they need to survive. Respiratory therapists collaborate with doctors and surgeons to devise treatment plans to help patients breathe better, often using a combination of therapies and aerosol medications. It’s a respiratory therapist’s job to not only decide what treatments a patient should use, but teach them how to use the treatments, such as devices intended to improve lung capacity.

To secure a position as a respiratory therapist, candidates must earn a degree from a college, university, technical school or military branch. While an associate’s degree may be enough to allow candidates to secure an entry-level position in some facilities, many employers prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree. Classroom instruction in these programs will include mathematics as well as several branches of science, such as physics, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. Students of these programs will also learn to administer diagnostic tests, use medical equipment, evaluate patients’ respiratory performance and deliver life-saving first aid procedures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). During the course of their academic careers, aspiring respiratory therapists will have the opportunity to put these skills to use in required clinical experiences. Nearly all states require respiratory therapists to hold a license. To improve their marketability, aspiring respiratory therapists may wish to seek certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care as a Certified Respiratory Therapist or higher-level Registered Respiratory Therapist.

Respiratory therapists earn a median salary of $54,280, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These healthcare professionals can look forward to a positive job outlook. The BLS anticipates career opportunities for respiratory therapists to increase by 28 percent between 2010 and 2020, twice the 14 percent rate of growth expected across all occupations. If you excel at science, feel compassion for people who are sick or injured and are good at resolving problems, knowing how to become a respiratory therapist could be the start of a rewarding new career in the healthcare industry.

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