A respiratory care practitioner, also known as a respiratory therapist, helps people with breathing problems. The job description includes working with patients suffering from chronic respiratory disorders, such as asthma or bronchitis, as well as patients whose breathing disorders are caused by sudden events, such as heart attacks or strokes. Respiratory care practitioners use diagnostic tools and therapeutic treatments to help patients resume normal breathing. They take direction from physicians and work in a variety of settings, such as hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units, as well as in home environments monitoring life support or ventilation systems. To become a respiratory care practitioner, an individual must complete a minimum of an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy and satisfy licensing requirements.
The duties of a respiratory care practitioner involve a diagnostic process. These therapists run diagnostic tests and interview patients to determine the extent of their breathing problems. Their tests determine how much oxygen the patient’s blood contains. Lung capacity is also measured by asking patients to breathe into devices that indicate the amount of oxygen flowing into and out of the lungs. These diagnostic tests are intended to provide information for physicians who then prescribe a treatment plan.
Respiratory care practitioners utilize a variety of methods to treat patients. In working with an asthma patient, for example, the therapist will teach the patient how to use the prescribed inhaler to improve his breathing. If the patient is having difficulty breathing as a result of an emergency situation caused by a heart attack or shock, for example, the therapist might apply an oxygen mask to assist breathing. Some patients need the assistance of a ventilator, in which case a respiratory care practitioner connects the patient to a ventilator by inserting a tube into his windpipe to increase the amount of oxygen entering the lungs.
Jobs for respiratory care practitioners may be found in a variety of settings. Hospitals are the most common employers of these therapists. Emergency rooms, operating rooms, and intensive care units are areas of a hospital where the services of a respiratory care practitioner are often needed. Some respiratory therapists travel on emergency vehicles to deliver immediate assistance to patients. Labs that work with patients who have sleep disorders or cardiac issues hire respiratory care practitioners as well.
To become a respiratory care practitioner, an individual must satisfy the requirements for an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy and, in most cases, complete licensing requirements. Many employers look for applicants who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. If the therapist is working in a supervisory capacity, a master’s degree is typically required. Licensing requirements vary by state and usually require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, successful passing of exams, and other requirements specific to the locale.