ABOUT THE RESPIRATORY CARE PROFESSION
Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing; for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.
Respiratory therapists typically do the following:
- Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
- Consult with physicians to develop patient treatment plans
- Perform diagnostic tests such as measuring lung capacity
- Treat patients, using a variety of methods, including chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications
- Monitor and record the progress of treatment
- Supervise respiratory therapy technicians during tests and evaluate the findings of the tests
- Teach patients how to use treatments
Respiratory therapists use various tests to evaluate patients. For example, therapists test lung capacity by having patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen when they inhale and exhale. Respiratory therapists may also take blood samples and use a blood gas analyzer to test the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels present. They perform chest physiotherapy on patients to remove mucus from their lungs and make it easier for them to breathe. Removing mucus is necessary for patients suffering from lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and involves the therapist vibrating the patient’s rib cage, often by tapping the patient’s chest and encouraging him or her to cough.
Respiratory therapists may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators to deliver oxygen to the lungs. Therapists insert a tube in the patient’s windpipe (trachea), and connect the tube to ventilator equipment. They set and monitor the equipment to ensure that the patient is receiving the correct amount of oxygen at the correct rate. Respiratory therapists who work in home care teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems in their homes. During these visits, they may inspect and clean equipment, check the home for environmental hazards, and ensure that patients know how to use their medications. Therapists also make emergency home visits when necessary. In some hospitals, respiratory therapists are involved in related areas, such as counseling people on how to stop smoking and diagnosing breathing problems for people with sleep apnea.
Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 28 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and elderly population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and pneumonia, respiratory disorders that permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function. These factors will lead to an increased demand for respiratory therapy services and treatments, mostly in hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, advances in preventing and detecting disease, improved medications, and more sophisticated treatments will increase the demand for respiratory therapists. Other conditions affecting the general population, such as smoking, air pollution, and respiratory emergencies, will continue to create demand for respiratory therapists.
The median annual wage of respiratory therapists was $54,280 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,990, and the top 10 percent earned more than $73,410.
Interaction with faculty, therapists, physicians and nurses is essential and is the key to the School of Health Professions Respiratory Care program. Students engage in seminars, intensive classes and laboratories, and clinical training in hospitals. The result is an outstanding education in respiratory care, but it is more than that. There is a sense of personal growth and a real commitment to serving people.
The overall purpose of the program is to provide a high-quality education that is relevant and professionally sound to meet the respiratory care leadership needs in the health care community. Inherent in this purpose is the goal to prepare respiratory care practitioners who can demonstrate the attitudes, skills and knowledge required to meet the changing needs in the community.
It will be necessary for the respiratory therapist to cooperate with all members of the health care team in identifying and solving the problems that relate to respiratory diseases and disorders of the cardiopulmonary system. The respiratory therapist must be able to think critically, communicate effectively, demonstrate judgment and provide self-direction. It is a primary objective of the program to educate well-qualified, competent respiratory therapists who demonstrate leadership ability.