Respiratory Therapy Techs
|Recommended Degree Level||Associate|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||13,460|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.1%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||300|
- Entry-level respiratory therapist techs must have an associate's degree to practice, but many opt for four-year bachelor degree programs.
- Some states also require continuing education for practicing respiratory therapy technicians.
What you study:
Like most health-related professions, respiratory therapy technicians follow a science-based curriculum. Coursework typically includes:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Respiratory therapeutics
- Critical care techniques
A Day in the Life
Like most respiratory technicians, you work in a hospital, though you know others in your field who work in assisted living facilities or as home health care personnel. Currently, you work an early shift in the cardiac care unit; last year, you worked in the neonatal ward. In both environments, your patients rely on you to help them breathe more easily.
When you arrive at the hospital shortly after dawn, the overnight shift's technician brings you up to speed. The night was uneventful overall, but one patient who recently underwent bypass surgery spent a restless night. You make a note to ask her additional questions about how she feels so that you can ease her breathing and talk with her cardiologist about her care. After handling the morning's paperwork, you make your first ventilator rounds.
During your first round, most of your patients are still sleeping, including the patient with the persistent cough. You monitor all respiratory devices and oxygen regulators, recording settings on patients' charts without waking them. You'll make these rounds at least once every two hours and may see patients more often to regulate oxygen flow, teach patients how to manage respiratory conditions and administer inhaled medications. Regular assessment of patients' blood oxygen levels and lung capacity are vital, so you'll coordinate with physicians and other technicians.
Before breakfast is served, you check again on the patient who had the persistent cough. She's awake now, and you take a pair of heart-shaped cough pillows into her room. Handing her one of the pillows, you demonstrate with the other how to hold the pillow to your chest to facilitate coughing. After thoracic surgery, many patients feel too much pain or anxiety to cough normally, and the pillow offers necessary support. You explain that coughing and deep breathing are essential to her recovery, so it's important to overcome unease about coughing after surgery. She seems to feel better after finding relief for her cough and reassurance for her concern.
In the afternoon, you spend some time in the the hospital's pulmonology department, illustrating the proper use of rescue inhalers for patients with asthma and showing people with COPD how to use medications and oxygen units. One patient has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes respiratory problems. You assist with airway clearance techniques. After chest percussion on the patient, you work together on breathing exercises.
Eight-hour shifts are common in your hospital, so you prepare to leave by mid-afternoon. Other area hospitals' technicians work 10-hour shifts four days a week, but you find traditional shifts easier. You prepare patients' charts and pass along important information to the next shift, taking care to mention the patient who is still getting used to her cough pillow.
Certifications and Licensing
Respiratory therapy technicians must be licensed in almost all states, although requirements for licensing vary by state. The entry-level certification a respiratory therapy technician can earn is the Certified Respiratory Technician (CRT) certification. Those who intend to specialize may earn additional certifications.
Full-time versus part-time:
Most respiratory therapists work full time although home health care providers may have more flexible hours. In major metropolitan areas, shifts are available around the clock. Patients depend on therapists to provide frequent care, so the job does not allow significant flexibility once the therapist is on the job.
Although most respiratory therapy technicians work in a hospital environment, others work in private practice clinics, urgent care centers, long-term care facilities and patients' homes.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Respiratory Therapists – Visitors seeking a general overview of what respiratory therapy technicians do, where they work and the expected demand for the job in the near future will find it in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The site is a good introduction to the profession and provides direction to those just starting the search for information.
- American Association for Respiratory Care – More than 50,000 respiratory care specialists, including respiratory therapists, belong to the AARC. The not-for-profit organization supplies its members with educational opportunities, advocacy resources and comprehensive career advice. The site's job bank is particularly valuable to newly graduated respiratory therapy technicians. A newsletter and access to an annual conference are some of the perks of membership.
- Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care – As the organization responsible for accrediting certification programs and degree courses in respiratory therapy, the CoARC is an excellent resource for finding accredited programs nationwide. Visitors can also see what goes into the accreditation process. Visit the site's interactive map of program outcomes for an overview of how various accredited institutions compare in the degree programs they offer and the number of students who successfully graduate.