Becoming a Respiratory Therapist

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a career in the field of healthcare? Does your mind conjure up images of somber-looking doctors and nurses attending to one medical emergency after another? Or are you discouraged by the thought of going through years of extensive schooling?

Well, it’s time someone told you there is more to the healthcare profession than doctors and nurses. There’s a whole army of healthcare professionals who specialize in providing different kinds of patient care. What’s more encouraging is the fact that a lot of these professions don’t require extensive training or years of schooling.

Among these lesser known medical warriors are respiratory therapists or RTs. Respiratory therapists provide treatment, evaluation, and care to patients who are suffering from breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders.

They work with physicians in the cardiopulmonary or respiratory care department of a hospital, clinic, or home health services center. Among their many duties are:

Diagnosing breathing disorders.
Recommending appropriate treatment.
Conducting physical examination of patients.
Managing ventilators and other breathing devices.
Educating patients and their families about breathing disorders.

If you think becoming a Respiratory Therapist is your cup of tea, you need to start planning early. Maintaining good grades in biology, chemistry, physics, and math through high school could hold the key to becoming a Respiratory Therapist.

A strong foundation in these subjects will ensure that you sail smoothly through college. Although you can get started with an Allied Health degree, there are direct programs that train you specifically for a career in Respiratory Therapy and may be a good choice for interested candidates.

Two-year training programs leading to an Associate’s degree in Respiratory Therapy are offered by community colleges, career schools, hospitals, and the armed forces. An Associate’s degree comprises both classroom instruction as well as clinical training. In fact, clinical training is a very important component of any Respiratory Therapy program as it allows students to work in real life situations in a healthcare environment.

Although entry-level jobs can be attained with an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Care indicates a higher level of expertise and may be necessary for professional growth as well as for accessing roles with greater complexity. A Bachelor’s Respiratory Care program also comprises courses in management and non-clinical aspects of healthcare.

Some of the topics you can expect to learn en route to becoming a Respiratory Therapist are Cardiopulmonary Pharmacology, Pulmonary Anatomy & Physiology, Airway Management, Microbiology & Decontamination, Respiratory Care Protocols, Mechanical Ventilation Management, etc. Respiratory Therapists require a license from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) to practice in all U.S. states except Alaska and Hawaii. The board offers two types of credentials:

Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT): This license is offered to RTs who graduate from accredited entry-level or advanced programs and also pass a licensure examination.

Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT): This license is offered to CRTs who graduate from an advanced accredited program and pass two separate examinations. RTs who desire supervisory positions require an RRT.

In addition to these NBRC-conferred licenses, all practicing respiratory therapists need to obtain and maintain a certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (or CPR). Once you have the desired qualifications and necessary licensure, you can explore employment possibilities in a wide range of healthcare settings.