A respiratory therapist (RT) is a specialized healthcare practitioner who has training in pulmonary medicine. They help evaluate, monitor, and treat breathing and lung problems.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of RTs, what they do, and their training requirements.
An RT is a medical professional who works with doctors to assess, diagnose, and treat lung and breathing conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.
For example, they may interview and evaluate people to determine the best treatment method.
Most RTs have a degree in respiratory therapy and Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credentials.
Some examples of RT duties include:
- tracking progress
- performing chest exams
- conducting tests, such as pulmonary function tests
- providing treatment or therapy recommendations
- measuring vital signs
- drawing blood
- removing lung secretions
- analyzing the breath
- teaching breathing exercises
- providing physical therapy
- managing ventilators and artificial airway devices
- providing breathing treatments, such as oxygen therapy
- administering medication and aerosol therapy
RTs work with doctors and nurses and have a range of responsibilities and duties related to lung health.
For example, they help people manage breathing conditions and improve their quality of life. RTs also create long-term care plans and provide education, training, and information to people and their families.
RTs treat breathing conditions in a variety of settings, including emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and maternity wards. They also work in nursing homes, hospices, and home care settings.
Below are a few examples of different types of RTs.
Neonatal-pediatric and pediatric
Neonatal-pediatric RTs provide care in children’s hospitals and the neonatal-pediatric wards of general hospitals. They monitor and treat breathing conditions in newborns.
Pediatric RTs care for toddlers and children.
Long-term care RTs work in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals. They also work in skilled nursing, assisted living, and independent living facilities.
Surface and air transport
People who work as surface and air transport RTs provide treatment to people during emergency transit to critical care units. Modes of transport include helicopters, air ambulances, and ground ambulances.
Pulmonary rehabilitation RTs treat chronic lung conditions, including asthma, emphysema, and pulmonary fibrosis. They provide education, treatment, and exercises that help people breathe more easily and comfortably.
Pulmonary rehabilitation RTs may work in hospitals or pulmonary rehabilitation centers.
Polysomnography RTs often work in sleep laboratories. They usually work during the night, which is when they conduct sleep studies.
They also treat lung conditions, use polysomnographic equipment, and learn about sleep disorders.
RTs help people with breathing conditions such as:
- sleep apnea
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- cystic fibrosis
- cardiac failure
- chest trauma
- lung disease and cancer
- blocked air passageways
To become an RT in the United States, a person must earn a degree in respiratory care, pass credentialing exams, and obtain a state license. Most states also require RTs to take continuing education courses.
To become a CRT, a person needs an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in respiratory therapy.
The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care must support or accredit the respiratory therapy education program.
The two principal credentials for RTs are the CRT and the RRT.
All states except Alaska require these credentials for licensure. Respiratory therapy laws, regulations, and continuing education requirements vary among states.
After earning a degree, a person must pass the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination. A person who gets a low-cut score will receive the CRT credential.
A person who gets a high-cut score will also receive the CRT credential. They will then be able to take the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE) if they meet the eligibility requirements.
After passing the TMC and CSE, a person receives the RRT credential.
To become an RT, a person must earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in respiratory therapy or respiratory care.
It takes around 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Usually, it takes 2 years to earn an associate’s or master’s degree.
Accredited respiratory therapy programs involve coursework as well as laboratory simulations, hands-on training, and clinical experience. Students also develop problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal skills such as communication, collaboration, and compassion.
Respiratory care programs may include training and coursework related to:
- clinical respiratory care
- chest physical therapy
- oxygen therapy
- advanced respiratory theory
- cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
- life support
- pediatric and neonatal care
The cost of a respiratory therapy degree varies. On average, it costs $35,720 per year to attend college in the U.S.
RTs are certified medical professionals who work with doctors and nurses as part of a healthcare team.
RTs work in a variety of settings, including doctors’ offices, hospitals, and nursing homes. They often diagnose breathing conditions and decide on the best treatment options for people.