Nature of the Work
You can live without water for a few days and without food for a few weeks. But without oxygen, you will suffer brain damage within a few minutes and die after about 9 minutes. Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners (RCP), evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders. Respiratory therapists administer aerosols--generally liquid medications suspended in a gas that forms a mist which is inhaled--and teach patients how to inhale the aerosol properly to assure its effectiveness. RCP’s deliver aerosols to provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema and assess the effectiveness of the therapy
Respiratory therapists treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed, to elderly people whose lungs are diseased. They provide emergency care for patients who suffered heart failure or a stroke, or are victims of drowning, trauma, or shock. RCP’s also may assist or place themselves breathing tubes in patients requiring assistance with ventilation. Therapists regularly check on patients and the equipment required for ventilation, and make adjustments based on the patient’s needs. In evaluating patients RCP’s test the capacity of the lungs and analyze the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as well as the blood pH. To measure lung capacity, therapists have patients breathe into devices that measure the volume and flow of air during inhalation and exhalation. By comparing the reading with the norm for the patient's age, height, weight, and sex, RCP’s can determine whether lung deficiencies/disease exist. Respiratory therapists perform arterial punctures or draw blood from arterial lines for analysis of blood pH, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
Respiratory therapists generally work between 35 and 40 hours a week. Part-time work is often available as well. Because hospitals operate around the clock, therapists may be required to work evenings, nights, or weekends. RCP’s may spend long periods standing and walking between patients' rooms. In an emergency, they work as part of a team and be subject to some degree of stress. Although hospitals will continue to employ the vast majority of therapists, a growing number of therapists can expect to work outside of hospitals in doctor’s offices, sleep labs, and home respiratory companies.
Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially for respiratory therapists with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience working with infants. Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2012, because of substantial growth in numbers of the middle-aged and elderly population—a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease.