Anyone interested in medicine will have a variety of choices, but becoming a respiratory therapist is a very good option. In some cases, the therapist chooses this vocation because of a family member who suffers from breathing problems, or simply because they find the lungs an interesting part of the body.
A respiratory therapist works closely with a doctor. The doctor will provide the diagnosis, and the respiratory therapist can administer treatments for breathing problems. These therapists can help with treatments and tests that are designed to make it easier for the patient to breathe. They may also supervise respiratory technicians. This will require additional abilities to communicate well and lead others. It is always important to keep the patient's best interest at the center of any interaction.
Duties that are required of a respiratory therapist include talking with the patient and doing exams. These include breath testing, checking oxygen and gas levels and aiding anyone who is on life support. Patients are very diverse and can be premature infants in the NICU or elderly people, and diagnoses may be anything from cystic fibrosis to asthma, making this a very interesting job. Some therapists work in the emergency room, aiding those who have had strokes, are in shock or may have nearly drowned. Any time there is a problem with the respiratory system, the therapist will be called in.
It is usually best to start as young as possible on this career path because it can be a long road, but older students can have success if they are sure this is a career they have a passion for. In high school, certain classes may help the therapist reach their dream. Biology, physics, math and chemistry, along with health classes are very beneficial. Math is very important and will be a big part of the job when it comes to medication doses, etc. It is usually necessary to apply for respiratory therapy school, or to be placed on a waiting list. One way to make your application stand out is to do volunteer work of a medical nature.
In order to become a therapist with a specialty in respiratory problems, an associate’s degree is usually necessary. Some states will accept certificate programs, but this varies. Many programs will also require a bachelor's degree and it is best to start with an accredited program to ensure it is easy to find a job later on. Courses need to include human anatomy, physics, microbiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology and chemistry. It will also be necessary to study CPR, outpatient care, record keeping, therapeutic and diagnostic testing and clinical guidelines, among other courses.
When it comes to being licensed, all states apart from Alaska and Hawaii require it. Most hospitals or employers also require this, along with an up-to-date CPR certification. Each state has its own rules, but most require an exam and an examination fee.
The vast majority of respiratory therapists are hired by hospitals, but some go on to work privately with stores that rent out equipment for respiratory disorders, home health services and private doctors. This is a career that is expected to increase through 2018. This is partly due to the fact that the baby boomers need more and more care for their older lungs. A therapist can earn from $37k-$69k, depending on their education and where they work, and whether they work full or part-time.