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Respiratory Therapist Job Expectations

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics /Occupational Outlook Handbook summarizes a 28% job growth for respiratory therapists, which is faster than average. In 2010 there were 112,700 respiratory therapist jobs. With a 28% increase, that means there will be 31,200 more jobs from year 2010 through 2020. Median pay for a respiratory therapist with no experience, with an Associate’s Degree is $54,280 per year.  As you gain experience your salary will grow accordingly. Respiratory therapy is a secure and growing field.

In your quest to become a respiratory therapist you will acquire focused skills to care for patients with respiratory insufficiency. To obtain a state license you will need at least a two year college degree and take state board examinations administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). In a college degree program you will take courses encompassing anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, psychology, pharmacology and the fundamentals of respiratory care.

During your respiratory therapy college program respiratory therapists do clinical rotations at hospitals and rehabilitation centers. You will be exposed to clinical scenarios that you will encounter when working in the field. As you gain experience as a respiratory therapist you will perfect the skills needed to effectively handle high-stress patient and family dynamics, not to mention maintaining professional working relationships with your fellow healthcare professionals.

You will gain the strength of time manageability because you will have a number of patients to visit and keep on a schedule. Of course, amongst all of this you will be expected to respond to emergency situations with your patients.

Generally, there are three settings a respiratory therapist may practice in: Acute Care (of the adult, child or newborn), Long-Term Rehabilitation Care and,  Home care.

If you work in an acute-care hospital,  a respiratory therapist routinely will be presented with high-stress emergencies on a routine basis. An emergency room is a highly unpredictable place to work. One moment you may be caring for a 80 year old Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patient and the next moment have a 3 year old patient come in via ambulance in respiratory failure secondary to a drowning. Respiratory therapists also work in the Intensive Care Unit caring for patients who are on ventilators that need close monitoring and frequent assessments to assure their respiratory status is stable.

In a long-term acute care/rehabilitation hospital respiratory therapists also care for patients on ventilators but mostly you will work with chronically ill COPD patients who require a lot of education and encouragement to live a daily life in moderation to adjust to their disease process.

In the home care setting respiratory therapists educate patients to do all of their own care independently, from managing their oxygen needs safely to maintaining all respiratory equipment.

As you can see, being a respiratory therapist is a challenging profession but it can also be as equally rewarding.