Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners, evaluate, treat and care for patients with breathing or other heart/lung disorders. These health professionals work with all types of patients, from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed, to elderly patients with chronic lung disease.

Therapists work under the direction of a physician and work directly with the patient to conduct tests such as measuring lung capacity or measuring a patient’s oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH levels. Physicians rely on the data provided to make treatment decisions.

Respiratory therapists work closely with physicians and nurses in critical care areas and emergency departments. They also serve as team members during air transport of critically ill patients, according to Jay Snyder, director of a hospital respiratory care department.

“The respiratory therapist is trained in advanced cardiopulmonary physiology. And oftentimes in illnesses, those two areas of the body are the first to be implicated in an illness.

Patients who have pneumonia or cardiac failutre, or have complications post-operatively, often require cardiac and pulmonary intervention.” Respiratory therapists also care for patients on life support, which requires considerable independent judgment.

Other areas of practice include providing therapy to patients with asthma and emphysema, home asthma prevention and awareness, pulmonary rehabilitation, and sleep diagnostics and treatment.


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