What is a respiratory therapist (RT)?

A respiratory therapist is a medical professional who cares for people who have trouble breathing normally, usually because of a chronic condition such as asthma or emphysema. Respiratory therapists are usually licensed by their state (except in Alaska). They may be certified by an organization like the National Board for Respiratory Care, but it is not always required. They hold at least an associate's degree, although many have attained a bachelor's degree.

In addition to studying biology, human anatomy and physiology, physics, chemistry and other sciences, respiratory therapists are trained in therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests, equipment, patient assessment and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Respiratory therapists may work in hospitals, nursing care facilities or travel to people's homes. They spend their time diagnosing lung and breathing disorders and recommending treatment methods, doing chest physical exams to determine what kind of therapy is best for someone's condition and consulting with physicians to recommend a change in therapy, if needed. Respiratory therapists may also analyze breath, tissue and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases. They can manage ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own. Sometimes they need to respond to urgent calls and provide emergency care.

An important part of a respiratory therapist's job is educating patients and families about lung disease so they can maximize their recovery.

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