The primary function of a respiratory therapist is to provide care to individuals with a variety of respiratory diseases and ailments, ranging from chronic asthma and bronchitis to treatment enabling premature babies and patients who have experienced cardiac events to breathe more easily. Some respiratory therapists provide emergent care, such as to those experiencing shock or a heart attack, or to those who have endured drowning. As more members of our population enter their oldest years, the need for respiratory therapists and their skillset will only increase.
Respiratory therapists are knowledgeable in a variety of areas, including cardiopulmonary physiology, diagnostic criteria, and biomedical technology. They are able to use this knowledge to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals in need of care; they are also able to work in preventive settings, creating programs and policies to address common respiratory problems before they emerge. Because of their critical role in the medical team, including developing and implementing treatment plans, educating patients, and prevention and management of diseases, respiratory therapists not only need clinical knowledge, but also critical thinking and assessment skills, as these enable them to fully integrate with evidence-based guidelines for their clinical practice. Whether it is through assessing vital signs, administering medication, managing life support systems, or conducting rehabilitative activities with patients, respiratory therapists play an instrumental role in helping patients maintain their physical health as well as an excellent quality of life.