What is a respiratory therapist?

Respiratory Therapists are medical staff who care for patients with minor and major breathing problems. These patients can range from infants with underdeveloped lungs to the elderly who are suffering from emphysema. Respiratory therapists specialize in the cardiopulmonary system and think about what factors will impact patient breathing. They also assess patients’ conditions and work with physicians to determine the best treatment options. This is a rewarding profession where you can help patients breathe a little easier.


Is being a respiratory therapist worth it?

You want to know if this field is worth pursuing. Well, it depends on what you are looking for. Respiratory care is a rewarding field with good pay. You can also contribute to your community by helping people breathe easier. However, this field does come with its quirks you should consider. For instance, you should make sure you can handle being in stressful situations and still perform your duties to your best ability.

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of respiratory therapy and if it’s a good fit for you.


Pros of Respiratory Therapy

Educational Requirements

Respiratory care is an attractive field for many people because of how short it takes to become a respiratory therapist. In as little as two years, you can also be a professional in this field. Granted, there are costs like your associate’s degree, certifications, and license to practice. But the overall cost from start to finish can be way less than a field like nursing.

Even though completion time to become a respiratory therapist is short, you still need to study hard and learn the material like any other career. You don’t want to slack while in school because it can affect how well you do at your job once you graduate. When you become a respiratory professional, patients are putting their lives into your hands and you want to make sure you are prepared to give them the best possible care.


A good stepping stone to other careers

This profession can be a great fit for people who are interested in the medical field but are not sure where to start. The educational requirements only take two years to complete and you will make an average salary of [bls salary], which is good for someone just starting in the medical field. While working in respiratory care, you will know about the human body, better understand patients, and learn about the politics of a hospital. This can be a great opportunity to get your feet wet while working towards a career that interests you.


RT demand is growing in a lot of places

The number of respiratory therapists in demand is constantly rising. The bureau of labor statistics estimates RT jobs to rise from 134,000 to 162,000 by 2028. That is an additional 28,000 jobs! Demand is growing but this increase isn’t happening everywhere uniformly. Some places are hiring more professionals in respiratory care than others. For instance, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Hawaii have the greatest number of job vacancies and job growth for respiratory therapists. On the other hand, Idaho, D.C., and Rhode Island have the lowest amount of job openings with slower growth rates.

Before deciding on a career in respiratory therapy, make sure the area you want to work in is hiring a respiratory therapist. It also a good idea to have credentials that make you appealing to job employers. In areas where competition is high, we recommend you obtain a bachelor’s degree instead of associates. Employer preferences are moving towards a four-year degree because it offers a deeper understanding of respiratory care and you get more clinical training. We also suggest you get an advance credential like the Registered Respiratory Therapist because it validates to employers you have the necessary skills to practice.


Other Pros of being a RT

Make a difference in someone’s life

Being a respiratory therapist means you get to help patients treat their breathing problems. This is a rewarding field where you can see your patients’ conditions improve because of the care you provide. Knowing you have the skills to help others and contribute to society is an irreplaceable feeling.


The variety of day-to-day challenges

Even though respiratory therapists specialize in cardiopulmonary, the responsibilities they have will keep them on their feet. Below are some of the day-to-day activities these professionals perform while on the clock:

  • Work with physicians to make patient treatment plans
  • Provide emergency care, like artificial respiration or help with cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Observe the patient’s response to treatment, such as vital conditions or oxygen levels in the blood, and work with a physician if adverse effects do occur
  • Record the progress of treatment and teach patients how to self-administer
  • Set up and use respiratory equipment like ventilators, environment control systems, or aerosol generators
  • Enforce safety guidelines and ensure physicians’ orders are carefully followed
  • Coordinate with a team of physicians, nurses, and other professionals to care for patients


Longer days off than a standard 9 to 5

Professionals in this field typically work 35 to 40 hours a week in increments of 12-hour shifts. Working 3 to 4 long days can be brutal but you have a lot of free time once you’re off. Before you decide on this field, make sure you are comfortable with a long work schedule where you will be on your feet moving around a lot.


Cons of being a respiratory therapist

Bodily Fluids, Needles, Death

If bodily fluids make you queasy then you may want to reconsider if respiratory therapy is the right option for you. As an RT, you will be responsible for collecting samples of sputum (mucus from your airways) or blood. Are you afraid of needles? Well, you will be using one to collect samples. You will also see a variety of infections and diseases like pneumonia, COPD, emphysema, and throat cancer. Most of these diseases aren’t infectious but you will want to take the necessary safety precautions to limit exposure to yourself and your coworkers. Fortunately for respiratory care professionals, you won’t have to deal with fecal matter, but you see some gross fluids occasionally.


Not a variety of career options within respiratory care.

Becoming a respiratory therapist can take little time to do but there are very few career options once you are working. Since respiratory therapists are already specialized, the number of alternate careers for them is small. In many cases, you would need to go back to school transition to another role. For instance, career advancement as an RT often requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. If you are looking to move upward in your career in respiratory care, your options are management, education, or research. There are very few other roles besides these. If you get an extra certification you can move to other medical areas like sleep lab, inpatient care, home visits, and pulmonary function lab.


The workload can be stressful

About 81 percent of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, where they typically do 12-hour shifts responding to emergencies and caring for patients. Since hospitals are open year-round, you may have to work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays.

This can be a stressful work environment if you are juggling multiple tasks at once. You will need to respond to medical emergencies such as “code blues”. You will be present when there are cardiac/respiratory arrests, so you may watch people die despite everyone’s best efforts. And this can include patients like the elderly, other adults, kids, and infants.


Continuing education

As a licensed therapist, you will be expected to renew your credentials every few years or so. Typically, your credentials will include certification and a license. To renew your certifications, you will have to either retake your exams or complete requirements for continuing education credits, which can be free depending on how you complete the requirements. You may need to pay an administrative fee to renew your state license, however.


Closing thoughts

Respiratory therapy can be a hit or miss depending on your career goals. If you are looking for a good profession to get into and career growth is not a primary concern for you then this field could be a good fit for you. Otherwise, we would recommend you consider your options and think about how being a respiratory therapist can benefit your career desires.



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