What Is a Respiratory Therapist? (2024)

Several different specialized therapists are available to help treat and provide healthcare for your lungs. They are called respiratory therapists, or RTs.

A respiratory therapist (RT) is a certified medical professional who specializes in providing healthcare for your lungs. They have advanced knowledge of high-tech equipment, such as mechanical ventilators. RTs work alongside doctors and nurses. They practice in many medical facilities, including emergency rooms, maternity wards, and therapy offices. Some RTs care for people in their own homes.

Respiratory therapists help improve outcomes for people with asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, lung trauma, and other diagnoses. RTs can assess your breathing, recommend exercises, and monitor your progress.

There are several main types of respiratory therapy. An RT may specialize in one or more of these types.

Emergency respiratory therapy

This kind of respiratory therapy happens in a hospital. RTs provide assistance with emergency room cases and help people recover from heart surgery or lung failure. Some RTs assist doctors during complicated surgeries. They also treat pneumonia. A big part of emergency respiratory therapy involves ventilators. RTs manage or initiate life support for those who need it.

Adult respiratory therapy

Adult respiratory therapy takes place in a hospital, outpatient, or home setting. An RT may assist with routine care for the maintenance of chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. Adult respiratory therapy often involves the treatment of emphysema. RTs are sometimes in charge of programs that help adults quit smoking.

Pulmonary rehabilitation helps the lungs regain more breathing capacity after a surgery or traumatic event. This kind of therapy may be provided outside of the hospital by an RT. They also work in sleep labs to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea.

Pediatric respiratory therapy

Pediatric RTs focus on newborn and childhood cardiopulmonary issues. Sometimes they work in a hospital, where they care for patients in inpatient units including babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. Some pediatric RTs offer outpatient care for children and adolescents with asthma.

Hospitals frequently have pediatric emergency transport teams that take newborns or children to different facilities by ambulance or helicopter. The teams are generally made up of a nurse and an RT.

Geriatric respiratory therapy

As we age, so do our lungs. Sometimes respiratory therapy can help increase breathing efficiency for older people. Respiratory tract infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bronchial pneumonia are diseases that a person over the age of 65 is likely to encounter. Geriatric respiratory therapy happens at a hospital, an outpatient facility, or a person’s home.

RTs can become necessary in many situations. In almost every case, a primary care physician, pediatrician, or emergency room doctor will let you know if you need an RT. Some populations are more likely to need respiratory therapy. Adults over 65 and adults who smoke are the people that need RTs most. Premature babies often receive care from RTs as well.

It typically takes between two and four years to become an RT. RTs need to complete an accredited associate degree program and pass a national exam to become a certified respiratory therapist, or CRT. RTs also need a license to practice. The American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) provides this license.

The second year of the program is clinical practice. This happens hands-on in a hospital or therapy facility. Recently, the AARC has moved toward only allowing four-year programs to be accredited.

A good RT needs to be intelligent and intuitive. RTs often have the difficult task of providing life support for individuals who may not survive. A good RT will feel patience and compassion for families of those individuals.

RTs are asked to work long, irregular hours, so they need to have a high energy level. They also need a good work ethic to provide for the needs of their patients. RTs should have a passion for learning, because technology in this field is always getting better.

Your doctor may have already spoken to you about respiratory therapy. People with chronic lung disease or those who have been in the hospital for a while sometimes need respiratory therapy. Speak to your doctor if you feel you would benefit from this type of therapy.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist? (2024)


How do you explain what a respiratory therapist is? ›

A respiratory therapist helps patients who are having trouble breathing. Respiratory therapists work under the direction of doctors and treat a range of patients, from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people with lung disease.

How many questions are on the RRT exam? ›

The TMC exam contains 160 multiple-choice questions, 20 of which are unscored, and you will be given a time limit of 3 hours. The unscored questions are called “pretest” questions and are used to validate questions for future versions of the exam. The exam is split into three sections: Patient Data.

What is the primary focus of respiratory therapy? ›

Respiratory therapists interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, because of conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Is becoming an RT worth it? ›

And not only do RTTs have job security, but this is also a job that is well respected in the medical field, and among your peers, you will be considered an expert in your profession, one that will help contribute to the conversation of improving a patient's life.

What is a respiratory therapist quizlet? ›

What do Respiratory Therapists do? -Also known as respiratory care practitioners. -Evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders.

What is the general job of a respiratory therapist? ›

Respiratory Therapist Job Duties

Conducting, performing, and analyzing diagnostic and function tests to assess lung capacity and capability. Working with physicians and nurses to create treatment plans. Treating patients with aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy. Evaluating progress of treatment.

How hard is the respiratory therapy exam? ›

The TMC (Therapist Multiple-Choice) exam is a challenging exam measuring respiratory therapy students' and graduates' knowledge and skills. The exam can be tough for several reasons. For one, the exam covers a lot of ground.

What is the pass rate for the RRT exam? ›

Candidates who had earned a Bachelors degree from their respiratory therapy programs had a pass rate of 63.1% while those with an Associates degree had a pass rate of 55.9%.

How many times can you take the RRT exam? ›

If the second higher cut score of 72% is met, the NBRC awards a CRT certificate, and the therapist is eligible to take the Clinical Simulation Exam for RRT certification. The exam is scored electronically. Pass/Fail results are available immediately. Those who fail can retest up to three times.

Do respiratory therapists draw blood? ›

RTs serve as members of the code/rapid response team. They help with endotracheal intubation, airway management, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and trauma patient management. They also perform pulmonary function tests, draw blood, and conduct chest physiotherapy.

Where do respiratory therapists make the most money? ›

The top-paying states for respiratory therapists, by average yearly salary are:
  • California: $96,150.
  • New York: $91,140.
  • Alaska: $88,490.
  • District of Columbia: $86,250.
  • Washington: $86,130.

Can a respiratory therapist intubate? ›

One of the ways RTs help support patient care is through providing intubation when needed on critically ill patients or patients undergoing surgery. Intubation allows RTs to take over the breathing function for a patient for a variety of reasons.

What are top RT salaries? ›

$63,000 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $111,500 is the 75th percentile.

What is the salary of a RT in the US? ›

Respiratory Therapists made a median salary of $70,540 in 2022. The best-paid 25% made $81,610 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $62,260.

What makes more a RT or RN? ›

On average, registered nurses make about $82,826 per year in the US. The average salary of a registered respiratory therapist RRT is about $86,949 per year. It's fundamental to note that salary and wages can vary widely for both positions depending on the level of experience, location, company, demand, and education.

What is the professional summary of a respiratory therapist? ›

Respiratory therapists assist people with cardiopulmonary and breathing disorders by providing them with beneficial therapy programs. They interview patients and design treatment programs that aim to alleviate and treat respiratory issues.

What is the job description of a respiratory technician? ›

Sets up, operates, and adjusts oxygen therapy equipment and humidifiers. Checks piped-in and emergency oxygen supplies, changes tanks, and orders oxygen. Keeps records of treatments, does patient charting, and orders supplies. Educates patients concerning respiratory problems and consults with nursing staff.

What is the difference between a respiratory practitioner and a respiratory therapist? ›

The main difference between the two is in the types of cases they receive. Respiratory care practitioners are likely to see more intense cases, such as chest infections, pneumonia, or even lung cancer. Respiratory therapists tend to see patients with common or manageable conditions, such as acute asthma.

What does a respiratory specialist do? ›

Description. A respiratory physician (respiratory and sleep medicine specialist) is a medical professional who specialises in diagnosing, treating and preventing conditions and diseases affecting the respiratory (breathing) system.

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