Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists, also referred to as respiratory care practitioners, treat patients with breathing disorders and respiratory conditions and are in high demand throughout the United States and Canada.

Respiratory therapists undergo extensive training in science and behavioral therapy fields. Most respiratory therapy training programs are 2 year certification programs. In addition to completion of coursework, most respiratory therapists must also shadow a practicing therapist, attain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and, in many states, pass a written examination before they may be certified.

Upon achieving certification, respiratory therapists typically have many job prospects. These prospects are located throughout the country and offer entry level annual salaries ranging from $26,000 to more than $60,000. As with other fields, respiratory therapists' salaries tend to increase with experience, quality of the employing institution and promotion to supervisory roles. Many therapists increase their financial compensation by assuming management roles and/or establishing their own private practice.

Respiratory Therapy Job Search

Entry-level, certified respiratory therapists have one of the highest hiring success rates among professionals. At present, trade journals report vacancies at prestigious health care facilities throughout the United States and Canada.

Academic institutional resources are among the best places to begin a respiratory therapy jobs search. Universities and colleges offering degrees in respiratory therapy typically have close connections with local health care facilities; in fact, many professors may still be actively employed in the respiratory health care community. Most colleges and universities also have career placement offices that exist to help students find employment after graduation. These offices often have close relationships with the personnel departments of local hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

Other job search options include newspaper, professional journal and Web-based classified advertisements. Additionally, the human resources departments of both in- and out-patient health care facilities are employment resources for respiratory therapists.

Is Respiratory Therapy Right for You?

Although respiratory therapy is one of the most rapidly growing therapy careers in health care, it is not the right career choice for everyone. Successful respiratory therapists are patient and compassionate. Often, therapists work with severely limited patients, for whom progress is arduous and slow. It can be difficult to maintain optimism in the face of such difficult medical challenges. Respiratory therapists must have a moderate amount of technical ability in order to operate machines that play an ever-increasing role as therapy modalities. Moreover, respiratory therapists must be comfortable with and proficient in the fields of math and science, since respiratory therapists conduct experiments and make treatment calculations based on the experimental results. Finally, respiratory therapist must be able to communicate effectively; the overall treatment success depends upon an interdisciplinary approach to care.

Students interested in respiratory therapy should be encouraged by the job market. There is a large demand for respiratory therapists throughout the nation, and salaries for entry-level therapists rise every year. Entry-level respiratory therapists earn approximately $26,000 a year and receive generous benefits. With time, many therapists earn over $60,000 annually. Advancement opportunities include supervisory positions, private practice and specialization.

There are a number of organizations that promote the professional interests of respiratory therapists. Many hospitals and large rehabilitation centers' employees are union members. Therapist unions work to improve wages and working conditions for their members. In addition, many respiratory therapists belong to professional associations, such as the American Association for Respiratory Care, which aid therapists in their quests to obtain additional training and resolve professional problems.

Respiratory Therapy in Action

Respiratory therapists help patients overcome and cope with an array of breathing disorders. In some cases, respiratory therapists will help patients regain normal respiratory function; in others, therapists will empower patients with coping mechanisms to combat a permanent disorder. Regardless of the prognosis, respiratory therapists must also be mechanically adept because a variety of medical accessories may be used to treat patients.

Effective respiratory therapists are good communicators. These professionals not only communicate with their patients, who range in age from infancy to elderly, but they must also communicate with interdisciplinary health care teams.

Before commencing a treatment regimen, respiratory therapists must review and evaluate a patient's case. This review includes thorough assessment of often copious medical records, evaluative testing and, often, meeting with an interdisciplinary health care team to discuss the overall wellness and treatment for a given patient.

After patient assessment, respiratory therapists use the reviewed information to generate a therapeutic protocol. Therapy plans may include, but are not limited to, exercise, dietary restrictions and the use of respiratory equipment. Respiratory equipment has greatly improved respiratory care; examples of such devices include: ventilators, back braces, aerosol medications and airway support systems. An effective respiratory therapist knows when and how to use all of these tools.

Ultimately, both respiratory therapists and patients work towards the goal of breathing normally, without assistance. To reach this goal, respiratory therapists must maintain meticulous records and continually reevaluate the effectiveness of treatment. Indeed, record keeping comprises a large portion of therapists' daily routine. Detailed patient data enables the therapist to communicate effectively with other medical personnel and serve to apprise the patient of his or her rehabilitative status.

Last Updated: 04/28/2014

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