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Respiratory Therapist Job Description

Respiratory therapists are health care professionals, dedicated to providing life-enhancing, life-supporting quality care to the elderly, adults, children and newborns.

Respiratory therapists work under the direction of physicians to assess, manage, treat and perform diagnostic evaluation, educate and care for patients with abnormalities and deficiencies associated with the cardiopulmonary system.

Respiratory therapists work throughout hospitals, usually in emergency room settings and intensive care units.

Therapists are a unique blend of technically sharp, analytical thinkers and patient-centered caregivers.

Some therapists focus on pediatric/neonatal care while others specialize in pulmonary rehabilitation and continuing care in patient homes or rehabilitative care facilities.

Respiratory therapists may also work in areas such medical equipment sales, cardiopulmonary diagnostics or education and management.

The job of a respiratory therapist is an independent one. In every action you practice strict ethics and good judgement because you are afforded much autonomy.

Unlike other healthcare professionals who are assigned to a specific area of the hospital, you are free to work throughout most of the facility. Because of the freedom afforded to you, it is easy to understand how you must be disciplined in all of your decisions.

The salary of a respiratory therapist is competitive with that of nursing. If you are dedicated in your work and remain a loyal and conscientious employee you will be well compensated.

You are responsible for the respiratory care of many patients who depend on you. The nursing staff will look to you for advice and rely on your expertise. Wisely communicate with them to best care for your patients. A team approach is always best.

Over time you will sharpen your therapeutic communication skills with other healthcare professionals. You will also gain the respect and trust of fellow respiratory therapists, nurses and physicians.

One of the greatest advantages of being a respiratory therapist is the specialized schedule you may work. You have the flexibility to work either an eight or twelve hour shift. You likely will work every other weekend and every other major holiday.

The schedule of a respiratory therapist allows you to fit your job into your life, not the other way around.

Your shift will begin by getting report on all of the patients that are assigned to you. You discuss the patient’s condition, what occurred during the shift before and share any relevant details of care or change in condition.

Competing priorities are always part of a respiratory therapist’s job and you will learn to manage to best care for your patients.

Documentation of all clinical patient care must be completed in a timely manner. Time management is a skill that you perfect during your tenure as a respiratory therapist.

A respiratory therapist’s most important tools are your assessment skills. Assessing each of your patients will be done as you make your rounds of treatments/medication administration and/or mechanical ventilator checks.

You will be administering breathing medications and communicating with your patients to assess how they are feeling. You will listen to lung sounds, count their respiratory rate and heart rate and then measure their oxygen saturation. You may find that you have to titrate/adjust the amount of supplemental oxygen your patient is receiving to maintain proper oxygenation.

You will have to check the ventilator settings and alarm and pressure limits. Only a respiratory therapist can make changes to the ventilator settings upon orders from the physician. It is the responsibility of the respiratory therapist to accurately assure that all ventilator settings are accurate and functioning properly.

All the while you are caring for your patients you may get paged on your beeper to go to the emergency room to care for a patient in respiratory distress. Upon the physician’s orders, you assess, treat and monitor by administering oxygen, respiratory medications and drawing an arterial blood gas to accurately diagnose the cardiopulmonary problem.

As a respiratory therapist you can be called at any time for a medical emergency called a “code”. A code is when a patient is in cardiac and/or respiratory failure. You will respond and work as part of a team to perform CPR. Your basic responsibilities at a code are to provide oxygenation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and maintain the patient’s airway.

During an eight hour shift, you are afforded a 30 minute break for a meal and also have two 15 minute breaks.

You will work closely and develop bonds with your fellow healthcare professional and assist each other if your patient load gets too heavy.

Every day is a busy day. Just know that as a respiratory therapist you leave work each day feeling fulfilled that you’ve helped your patients breathe easier.