What is a Respiratory Therapist?
As health needs within the general population are becoming a greater focus in meeting wellness objectives, the health care field has also seen an expansion in specialties and conditions that address these rising needs. While preventive care is still a large focus, interventions that promote empowerment through rehabilitation and positive coping measures are also receiving more attention. One field which is seeing rapid job growth is that of a respiratory therapist.
Overview of What a Respiratory Therapist Job Function
Essentially, a respiratory therapist is a healthcare specialist who treats and diagnoses people with disorders that affect the heart and lungs. This can include conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular disorders, especially due to low oxygen in the blood stream
- Cystic fibrosis
- Traumas that impact the function of the lungs and heart
However, the scope of function for a respiratory therapist can also lead into the realm of wellness enhancement, and can even include working with athletes and other active individuals to improve lung function and the oxygen capacity of the blood for endurance training.
The setting in which a respiratory therapist works can also inform the scope of the job expectations. In a hospital or urgent care environment, the respiratory therapist provides vital care and life support for patients in with critical injuries or acute pulmonary attacks, but these therapists also have routine roles with the general hospital population, including the performance of diagnostic tests and working specifically with patient rehabilitation.
In an ambulatory care setting, a respiratory therapist will also be expected to diagnose lung and breathing problems and suggest possible treatments, interventions, and even methods for preventing further health crises. This also includes building relationships with patients through collecting information for a comprehensive health history and performing chest examinations or gathering tissue samples for analysis.
In critical and long term care units, monitoring ventilators and maintaining artificial airway devices for patients who are not able breathe on their own is also a strong responsibility for respiratory therapist.
Practical and Theoretical Aspects
One ideal aspect about the role of a respiratory therapist is that they are able to combine the functional benefits of health promotion for patients with diagnostic research that can not only have a positive impact on how one person’s treatment therapy proceeds, but this information can also create a foundation for future treatment protocols.
Since respiratory therapists use various tests to evaluate patients, they are also able to collect a large amount of information about the variables that can impact the severity of both acute and chronic conditions. This can include measuring lung capacity and volumes of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream in order to evaluate how efficiently a person is breathing. This can also provide insight into physiological mechanisms that contribute to poor pulmonary health, and this allows respiratory therapists to work with patients to find a viable solution for improvement.
This also means that respiratory therapists may be required to perform community outreach services, especially in order to better educate populations regarding risk factors for reduced lung function. Special populations, such as ones who are impacted by work related or environmental toxins may also be included in outreach and education programs, either through the community or through an employing organization. This also means that the development of health promotion and wellness programs falls within the scope of how respiratory therapists can combine practical and research aspects of their job.
Meeting Increasing Needs
The job of respiratory therapist is expected to see a faster than average demand for positions, with an expected 20% increase in job openings over the next decade. This makes it a very stable position, but also one that can provide immense job satisfaction through helping and serving others. In this respect, working to develop better education and wellness programs can also open respiratory therapists up to a wider range of employment settings, and greater responsibilities in the work.
Becoming a respiratory therapist can be fairly easy for an entry level position, as an Associate’s Degree and the appropriate licensing from the state of practice can secure a job. Licensing requirements can vary by state, but the National Board For Respiratory Therapists oversees the testing process before applicants can either become licensed as a registered or certified respiratory therapist.
Continuing education is a large part of staying compliant in this field of health care, and many respiratory therapists will transition to completing a four year degree while they are already on the job. This can improve chances for advancement, but also for furthering the scope of responsibilities in the industry.
Clinical experience can be a prerequisite to employment, although both two year and four year degree programs tend to offer hands on training in clinic labs or through internships. Some vocational schools also have partnerships with local care providers and hospitals, and this further meets the demands for training, and for having open jobs for qualified individuals.
Expanding the Care Setting Through Respiratory Therapists
One of the larger sectors in health care that is seeing an increased demand for respiratory therapists includes home care environments. It is becoming increasingly affordable and convenient for elder care to promote empowerment and self-sufficiency in a familiar home environment, and the use of registered nurses and respiratory therapists helps to improve the quality and access to these much needed provisions.
By working through a home care organization, respiratory therapists are able to help patients with ventilators and breathing tubes, while also educating family members about care needs. This approach establishes a relationship that supports the concept of wellness as a collection of lifestyle choices, and can also help in counseling patients about taking greater responsibility in their own health.
Sleep apnea and other breathing disorders that can affect rest and recuperation are also within the realm of a respiratory therapist’s scope of work. This can include developing aids that ensure proper breathing through the night, but also examining underlying factors for poor sleep habits that could be remediated through respiratory therapy.
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