What Does a Respiratory Therapy Assistant Do?

Nick Mann

Working as a respiratory therapy assistant involves aiding a primary respiratory therapist with treating patients to ensure proper care. Being successful in this career usually requires a person with extensive knowledge of respiratory therapy equipment and a compassionate nature. In general, an individual will need to complete at least one year at a technical school that focuses on respiratory health. Some typical responsibilities of a respiratory therapy assistant include observing the status of patients, preparing equipment, cleaning equipment, maintaining patient records and showing patients how to use equipment.

Respiratory therapists work with patients with breathing difficulties.
Respiratory therapists work with patients with breathing difficulties.

Routinely observing the status of patients is an integral part of this job. To ensure stability and well-being, it's important for a respiratory therapy assistant to periodically check each patient's breathing. Since a primary respiratory therapist is often busy, it's up to an assistant to make sure a patient's equipment is hooked up properly and that the patient is comfortable. If a problem arises, it's up to an assistant to immediately report the incident to a higher up. Consequently, it's mandatory for an assistant to have a full comprehension of respiratory equipment and be able to identify breathing difficulties in patients.

Patients who have been placed on a ventilator during surgery are often weaned off of the respiratory support within a few days.
Patients who have been placed on a ventilator during surgery are often weaned off of the respiratory support within a few days.

Another responsibility is correctly preparing respiratory equipment. For example, a respiratory therapy assistant might prepare a ventilator for a patient and regulate the amount of air flow. To ensure safety, he might also need to test the equipment for proper functioning. Since some types of equipment contain gases or combustible materials, a respiratory therapy assistant must always use caution.

Respiratory therapy assistants instruct patients in the use of an inhaler.
Respiratory therapy assistants instruct patients in the use of an inhaler.

Along with this, most respiratory equipment needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. Things like oxygen masks in particular must be sterilized between uses with different patients. In addition, an assistant might need to check the amount of oxygen in a tank to ensure there is enough prior to the next use.

A respiratory therapy assistant may use a finger pulse oximeter to assess whether a patient requires supplemental oxygen.
A respiratory therapy assistant may use a finger pulse oximeter to assess whether a patient requires supplemental oxygen.

Maintaining patient records is also common for a respiratory therapy assistant. Throughout a patient's stay at a medical facility, it's usually up to an assistant to make sure that all treatments and types of respiratory equipment are documented. He will also include any tests that are administered and the results. Keeping accurate records is important for sharing with other physicians and medical facilities later on.

A respiratory therapy assistant may be responsible for checking a patient's breathing.
A respiratory therapy assistant may be responsible for checking a patient's breathing.

Additionally, an individual will sometimes show patients how to use respiratory equipment. In most cases, this pertains to patients who are preparing to leave a facility and return home. It's the job of a respiratory therapy assistant to demonstrate how to regulate air flow, attach breathing masks and safely handle equipment.

A respiratory therapy assistant may administer oxygen therapy to a patient.
A respiratory therapy assistant may administer oxygen therapy to a patient.

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