On the Job
Respiratory therapists evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders.
Did you know that an average, healthy adult can take in over three liters of air in a single breath? Or, that the average person will breathe 23,040 times during 24 hours? That's 69,120 liters of air in a day! That is, if you are healthy. Unfortunately, many people have trouble breathing, whether they have asthma or are recovering from surgery. Respiratory therapists are the people who treat those who need help breathing.Respiratory therapists treat all types of patients. Sometimes they care for infants whose lungs are not fully developed. More often they care for elderly people whose lungs are diseased. In some cases, they give care during patient emergencies.
Respiratory therapists usually evaluate new patients before they treat them. They test patients' lung capacity by having them breathe into an instrument that measures oxygen. They compare the reading with the norm for that patient's age, height, weight, and sex. Therapists also use a blood gas analyzer. This machine measures the levels of oxygen and acidity in patients' blood. They talk to patients and explain to them everything they are doing. This makes patients feel comfortable and helps them to cooperate. Respiratory therapists follow doctors' orders when they treat patients. They monitor patients' conditions, and consult with the doctor if there are bad reactions. They may also make treatment decisions.
Respiratory therapists operate many different devices to treat patients. For example, they connect patients to ventilators by inserting a tube down their windpipe. Then they set the rate and volume of oxygen that will flow into patients' lungs. Some patients use ventilators and other life support systems at home. Therapists teach patients how to use them and check the equipment.
Respiratory therapists also perform chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from patients' lungs. They place patients in positions to help drain mucus. Then they vibrate their rib cage and tell patients when to cough. When their lungs are clear, therapists may administer inhalants. An inhalant is a liquid medicine mixed with gas. Therapists teach patients how to inhale properly so the medicine is most effective.
Respiratory therapists maintain patients' charts as they treat them. They record the results of evaluations and all treatment notes. They may also keep separate records of materials they use and the charges to patients. They make sure that all safety precautions are followed. In addition, therapists with experience may train and supervise new therapists and other staff.
Respiratory therapists sometimes have tasks that fall outside their typical role. They may perform procedures that test heart and lung function, such as stress tests. They may also draw blood samples from patients.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Set up and operate devices for patient treatment, such as ventilators, oxygen machines, and aerosol generators.
- Perform emergency care, such as artificial respiration.
- Follow doctors' orders and consult with doctors if patients have bad reactions.
- Monitor patients' responses to treatment and assess patients' condition.
- Review patient information to assess condition.
- Work with doctors, nurses, and other medical staff to oversee patient progress.
- Enforce safety rules.
- Maintain patients' charts. Note evaluation and treatment information.
- Inspect and clean equipment. Arrange for repairs, if necessary.
- Describe treatments to patients so they will cooperate.
- Teach patients to use ventilators and other life support systems for home care.
- May perform non-traditional tasks, such as drawing blood.
- Check lung function and adjust equipment for best results, following doctors' orders.
- Perform chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from lungs. Assist patients in breathing exercises.
- Teach or supervise respiratory care trainees and other staff.
- Assist doctors in research and diagnoses.
- Make emergency visits to fix equipment.
- Run several kinds of tests, such as electrocardiograms or stress tests, to assess lung functions.
- Use blood gas analyzer to measure blood levels of oxygen and acidity. Report results to doctor.
- Evaluate patients' lung capacity. Compare oxygen readings to normal standards for age, weight, and other factors.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Care for others.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Document and record information.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Work with the public.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Teach others.
- Control machines and processes.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Coordinate the work and activities of others.
- Analyze data or information.
- Estimate sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
- Process information.
- Evaluate information against standards.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a high level of social contact. They work closely with their patients.
- Deal with people daily who are unpleasant or discourteous due to their illnesses.
- Are somewhat responsible for patient health and safety.
- Communicate with patients and doctors daily by telephone or in person.
- Work in a group or as part of a team.
- Are somewhat responsible for the work done by other therapists and assistants.
- Always work indoors.
- Are exposed to diseases or infections on a daily basis.
- Always wear protective attire, such as gloves and masks, when interacting with patients.
- Work very near patients. They often work within inches of other people.
- Are sometimes exposed to radiation and contaminants.
- Occasionally are exposed to loud and distracting sounds and noise levels.
- Must be sure their work is exact. Errors could seriously endanger the health of their patients.
- Make decisions on a weekly basis that strongly impact patients. They rarely consult doctors before making decisions.
- Are usually able to set their tasks for the day without consulting with a supervisor.
- Repeat the same physical and mental activities.
- Generally have a set schedule each week.
- May work part time or full time, but most work 40 hours a week.
- May be required to work evenings, nights, or weekends.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Stand or walk for long periods of time.
- Use their hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- Repeat the same movements.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Use fingers or hands to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- See details of objects that are more than a few feet away.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- Bend, stretch, twist, or reach out.
- Make fast, repeated movements of fingers, hands, and wrists.
- Adjust body movements or equipment controls to keep pace with speed changes of moving objects.
- Choose quickly and correctly among various movements when responding to different signals.
- Move arms and legs quickly.
- React quickly using hands, fingers, or feet.
- Be physically active for long periods without getting tired or out of breath.
- Use muscles to lift, push, pull, or carry heavy objects.
- Coordinate movement of several parts of the body, such as arms and legs, while the body is moving.
- Use muscles for extended periods without getting tired.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.