Respiratory therapists work under the supervision of doctors to provide evaluation and treatment to people with breathing difficulties. They may work with patients near the beginning or end of life. A respiratory therapist is often beside a pre-term infant as she takes her first trip from the local hospital to the neonatal ward of a large medical center. The RT will work with other members of the medical team to develop and carry out a treatment plan and modify the plan as the infant’s lungs mature.
Respiratory therapists also evaluate and treat mature individuals who have pulmonary or cardiopulmonary issues; patients may have lung cancer or multiple arterial stenoses some have survived previous emergencies like the heart attack or stroke. In some cases, the goal is to mediate suffering as a person nears the end of his life. RTs also work with patients at all stages in between. Patients include children and adults with asthma and congenital defects as well as survivors of near-drownings and other traumas.
Approximately 80% of respiratory therapy positions are in hospitals, but positions can also be found in nursing care facilities and health practitioner offices. Some RTs work in alternative settings, for example, retail firms that sell respiratory equipment.
Among the RT’s responsibilities are evaluation and assessment. Duties include measuring a patient’s breathing capacity and also monitoring oxygen levels, alkalinity, and other chemical indicators. Assessment can also include interviewing the patient and taking careful note of difficulties.
The respiratory care practitioner also carries out the treatment plan. In some cases, this means monitoring and running machine that breathes for the patient. In other cases, the respiratory therapist teaches patients to manage their own breathing, using inhalers and other aids as needed. Respiratory therapists may move into less traditional roles like case management and respiratory-related health education. Some help people tackle the smoking habit.