Published On: Mon, Sep 7th, 2020

Should You Become a Respiratory Therapist? Here’s What You Should Know

Many people want to pursue a career in the medical field, but they don’t want to become a physician or a nurse; instead, they want to become a specialist, and help patients suffering from specific afflictions. If this sounds like you, you might consider a career as a respiratory therapist. But what exactly does a respiratory therapist do, and is it the right career path for you? 

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do? 

Respiratory therapists are healthcare practitioners who specialize in the heart and lungs. Typically, they focus on treating people with acute conditions, as well as cardiac and pulmonary diseases. For example, they often work with patients suffering from asthma, emphysema, and other pulmonary conditions. 

On the job, you’ll be responsible for using high-tech equipment, including ventilators, to help patients breathe whenever they’re struggling. You’ll be responsible for helping patients understand and take their medications. You’ll document and monitor patient progress, and recommend different treatment methods (including aerosolized medications and chest-based physiotherapy). You’ll also consult with other physicians for proper diagnostics, and to coordinate treatment plans. 


How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Becoming a respiratory therapist is somewhat straightforward, though it may take many years of education to become fully certified. To start, you’ll need an associate degree, at minimum, preferably in respiratory care. From there, you’ll need to become certified by the National Board for Respiratory Care, or your state’s licensing board. Once you’re fully certified, you’ll be able to begin practicing as a respiratory therapist. 

Note that if you want to maintain your certification and provide the best possible care for patients, you’ll also need to take continuing education courses online

The Perks of the Job

So why should you consider becoming a respiratory therapist? 

These are some of the top benefits: 

  • Salary. Respiratory therapists in the United States made a median salary of $60,280 in 2018, with the best-paid quarter of therapists making $72,760. It’s a relatively high-paying career, especially as you become more experienced in your field. 
  • Demand. Demand for respiratory therapists, as with almost any career in the medical field, is high and continues to grow. There are millions of people suffering from cardio-pulmonary conditions, and nearly all of them need to work with respiratory therapists at some point. If you become formally certified as a respiratory therapist, you can practically guarantee your ability to find a job at a local hospital or clinic. 
  • Purpose. Many people become respiratory therapists because they genuinely want to help people. They feel an internal sense of reward and accomplishment whenever they provide assistance to someone in need. Accordingly, this job can be very rewarding. 
  • Relatively low training requirements. Compared to other careers in the medical field, there are relatively minimal training and education requirements for respiratory therapists. In just a few years, you can get the training you need and begin your path to certification. From there, all you’ll need are continuing education credits to remain up-to-date with best practices. 

The “Right” Personality for Respiratory Therapy

The best candidates for respiratory therapy exhibit the following qualities: 

  • Interpersonal skills. First, you’ll need to have strong interpersonal skills. When working with patients, you’ll need to ask important questions and listen carefully to how they respond. When working with physicians and assistants, you’ll need to exchange information clearly and professionally. 
  • Compassion. You’ll also need to have compassion to be an effective respiratory therapist. The patients you’re working with will often be suffering from pain or discomfort, and may feel confused or intimidated by their treatments. It’s your job to make them feel more comfortable, and provide sympathy in many cases. 
  • Patience. Some types of respiratory therapy require long and frequent sessions, and some of your patients may not be easy to work with. Accordingly, the best respiratory therapists tend to have boundless patience. 
  • Creative problem solving. Sometimes, diagnosing a condition and finding the right therapeutic approach can be challenging. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to creatively solve tough problems. 
  • Fondness for science and math. Before you can become certified as a respiratory therapist, you’ll need to take many classes related to science and math—and you’ll need these skills in the execution of your career as well. 
  • Detail orientation. Respiratory therapists must monitor and document vital signs, response rates, and many other pieces of patient information. Focusing on details is crucial if you want to provide your patients with the best possible care. 

Do you feel like respiratory therapy is a good fit for you? If so, consider pursuing education in the respiratory therapy field. If you haven’t yet made up your mind, consider reaching out to a respiratory therapist in your area and asking them about their experiences and career recommendations.

Author: Anna Johansson

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