What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist is a medical professional who provides care for people who cannot breathe well on their own. They work with patients who have a variety of heart and lung issues, including premature infants, chronic asthma sufferers and elderly emphysema patients.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Students attend school and undergo intense training in order to work in the field of respiratory therapy. An associate’s degree is required to obtain a license and certification, but many therapists also have a bachelor’s degree. Since the health care field is rapidly and constantly evolving, it’s important for respiratory therapists to take continuing education classes in order to stay ahead and provide the best possible care for their patients.

After graduation, respiratory therapists should seek two certification levels in order to gain and maintain employment.

The first level of certification is the Certified Respiratory Therapist. This level of certification indicates a therapist has entry-level knowledge and abilities.

The next level of certification is the Registered Respiratory Therapist. This is a more advanced level of certification, and more and more employers are requiring it.

What Do They Do?

Respiratory therapists take care of a wide range of patients. Some ailments they typically treat are under-developed lungs in premature infants, sleep apnea and chronic bronchitis. Some therapists also provide life-saving treatments to people who are suffering heart attacks and strokes.

They work with doctors and nurses to make sure their patients receive treatments that will prolong their lives while improving their quality of life.


The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the rate of employment for respiratory therapists will grow rapidly over the next decade. An aging population is the primary reason for the expected growth in the field.

Most therapists work in hospitals, but some are employed in nursing homes, and others travel to their patients’ homes to provide care.

The field of respiratory therapy is a rewarding one. These therapists get to see real, life-changing results in the people they treat. By helping their patients breathe better, they also help their patients feel better and live longer, more enjoyable lives.

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