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The Respiratory Care Profession

What Is Respiratory Care?

Respiratory Care is a health specialty involving the treatment, management, control, diagnostic evaluation, and care of patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system. These patients may be found in the newborn nursery, the surgical and medical units, the emergency department, the outpatient department, intensive and critical care units, in extended care and skilled nursing facilities, and at home.

Respiratory Therapy has been around in many forms since the 1940's. We have been called oxygen technicians, inhalation therapists, respiratory therapists, and respiratory care practitioners. It is only within the last 15 years that respiratory care has taken its place as an essential and non-replaceable part of the health care delivery system. The future is here and now and the field continues to grow. Think about what it would be like to be part of a profession that does not know the words "I can't." It is only a lack of imagination that can hold respiratory care back.

What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

A Respiratory Therapist is responsible for setting up and operating the life-saving machines that help people breathe when breathing disorders and difficulties prevent them from adequately doing so on their own. You will also use a variety of sophisticated equipment and techniques to measure how a patient's lungs and circulatory system are working in order to evaluate and monitor a patient's respiratory health. Doctors and nurses will rely heavily upon you for your specialized knowledge in areas such as use of oxygen and oxygen mixtures, and aerosol medications.

While intensive respiratory care is essential, day-to-day therapeutic respiratory care is equally as important. Respiratory care personnel, in consultation with physicians, carry out specific therapeutic measures to assist the distressed patient. Respiratory care professionals, both certified respiratory therapists (CRT's) and registered respiratory therapists (RRT's), must be experts in providing specialized and selective therapeutic respiratory care. Therapists must be competent in such areas as:

  • medical gas administration, including oxygen, nitric oxide, and helium/oxygen mixtures
  • humidification
  • aerosolization of medications for asthma and emphysema
  • bronchopulmonary drainage and exercises
  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • advanced cardiopulmonary life support
  • mechanical ventilation
  • airway management
  • pulmonary function studies
  • arterial blood gas analysis
  • physiologic monitoring

What is the Outlook for Respiratory Care Field?

Over the last few years, the role of respiratory care professionals has expanded greatly. It is anticipated that the need for respiratory therapists in all health care settings will grow 40% in the next 8 years. Therapists are also needed to serve on multidisciplinary teams within the health care environment. For these and many other reasons, we anticipate the need for therapists with multiple skills to increase. Respiratory therapists can go on to become managers, administrators, supervisors, and educators. The choice is yours.