Spotlights

Job Description

Respiratory problems impact millions of Americans every year. Serious issues such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and pleural effusion can have serious life-threatening impacts if left untreated. Respiratory Therapy Technicians come to the rescue, helping patients of all ages who experience breathing difficulties. They’re also instrumental in assisting patients affected by COVID-19, as well as rendering emergency aid for people who’ve had heart attacks or shocks. 
 
Part of their work entails measuring patient lung capacity and using blood gas analysis to test blood samples and determine oxygen levels. They help persons suffering from sleep apnea, hook patients up to ventilators when necessary for sufficient oxygen delivery, and dislodge lung mucus by doing physiotherapy. Respiratory Therapy Technicians may be tasked to visit patients at home to conduct ventilator maintenance, provide training, inspect for hazards, and offer education about the risks of smoking. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Rendering life-saving medical care to persons suffering from acute breathing issues
  • Improving the quality of life for persons with chronic conditions
  • Helping to educate patients about the risks of harmful behaviors such as smoking
  • Serving on the frontlines in the fight against lung-attacking viruses, diseases, and disorders
  • Proving critical care to society’s most vulnerable populations, to include infants, the elderly, and those with severe breathing ailments
2019 Employment
135,800
2029 Projected Employment
162,000
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Respiratory Therapy Technicians work indoors with occasional travel required, depending on their duties. They work full-time and may expect evening, weekend, or holiday shifts. 

Typical Duties

  • Communicate with patients about their breathing problems and treatment
  • Run medical diagnostics such as blood gas analysis to determine oxygen levels
  • Use electrocardiograms, conduct stress testing, measure patient lung capacity
  • Help diagnose medical conditions
  • Work with medical staff and generate viable treatment options to include therapy and medications
  • Perform chest physiotherapy to loosen and dislodge mucus
  • Track patient progress and perform follow-ups
  • Perform endotracheal intubation; connect patients to ventilators when needed for oxygen delivery
  • Assess patient response to treatment
  • Operate applicable equipment such as aerosol generators, mechanical ventilators, or gas administration apparatus
  • Additional Responsibilities
  • Education patients on proper breathing apparatus and medicine usage
  • Conduct home visits to assess conditions and provide further training 
  • Teach patients and family members about the risks of smoking 
  • Train new staff members as needed
  • Aid with cardiopulmonary resuscitation 
  • Instruct patients on breathing techniques 
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Clear communication skills 
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural sensitivity and awareness
  • Desire to help ill patients
  • Good listening skills 
  • Patience
  • Persistent 
  • Reasoning abilities to figure out problems
  • Resilience and composure; able to operate under pressure
  • Resourcefulness 
  • Skills for coordinating and instructing activities
  • Sound judgment and decision-making, sometimes under pressure

Technical Skills

  • Respiratory Therapy Technicians must know how to use a vast area of equipment, such as:
  • Adult or pediatric intensive care ventilators, apnea monitors, arterial blood gas monitors, and autotransfusion units
  • Bedside pulmonary function screeners, blood collection syringes bronchoscopes, cardiac output monitoring units, and chest percussors
  • Oxygen delivery connectors and monitors
  • Nebulizers, and noninvasive continuous positive air pressure machines
  • Medical aerosol tents, gas cylinders, oxygen masks, suction/vacuum appliances, and mercury blood pressure units
  • Clinical incubators, electrocardiography devices, electronic blood pressure units, endotracheal tubes, flow sensors, and ventilators
  • Intermittent positive pressure breathing machines, intraaortic balloon pumps, and stethoscopes
  • Sputum collection apparatus, tracheostomy tubes, treadmill exercisers, and vacuum blood collection tubes 
  • Pulmonary functioning tubing, pulse oximeter units, humidifiers and vaporizers, therapy compressors, resuscitation masks, and spirometers
  • Electronic medical record software
Different Types of Organizations
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Doctors’ offices
Expectations and Sacrifices

Respiratory Therapy Technicians provide lifesaving medical assistance to patients, which can be a stressful experience. They’re expected to maintain composure and perform duties effectively, no matter what person they’re treating is experiencing. For example, the patient might stop breathing right in front of them. This can demand a level of emotional detachment during the situation, and those pent-up feelings of stress, fear, sadness, or anxiety will eventually want to come out. It’s important for workers in this career field to take care of their own wellness needs and manage their stress levels. 
 
There’s also the risk of exposure to infectious disease and other contagions when treating patients. In particular, those with lung conditions may cough a lot, spewing germs into the air surrounding them. For this reason, Respiratory Therapy Technicians should always do a careful assessment before treating their patient, and determine the proper personal protective equipment or mask to wear, when needed. 

Current Trends

Respiratory Therapy Technicians have been in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The job outlook is expected to expand as much as 19% in the coming decade, which is substantially higher than most fields. This is not simply because of the effect of the coronavirus, but also because people are living longer, but not necessarily healthier, lives. 
 
As a result, patients may develop any number of respiratory conditions requiring treatment and therapy from trained professionals. This may include increasingly providing care in non-hospital areas, such as nursing homes. 
 
Other trends include a focus on early detection and prevention, and continuing focus on air pollution and anti-smoking educational awareness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an emphasis on certification and a willingness to travel to rural areas. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

Respiratory Therapy Technicians are devoted to helping others in their time of greatest need. These frontline workers may have always had a desire to come to the rescue of others, perhaps due to some childhood experience. While it’s required for them to have compassion and empathy, they must also be objective and composed in stressful situations. They may have honed their skills as early leaders of activities in school, perhaps in sports or clubs. Chances are they also exhibited an aptitude for biology and science, or tech gadgets. It’s also possible they thrive in high-stakes environments, which could have any number of reasons behind it, including early exposure to risky or chaotic situations. 

Education and Training Needed
  • Respiratory Therapy Technicians require an associate’s degree at a minimum, with a bachelor’s preferred for some positions
  • There are also required clinical components for hands-on practice
  • Programs should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care 
  • Career-specific training includes learning CPR, testing procedures, therapy techniques, diagnostics, and how to operate a wide range of equipment 
  • After the associate’s or bachelor’s is completed, state licensure is required except in Alaska (where it’s still highly recommended)
  • Graduates must pass a Therapist Multiple-Choice exam to earn their Certified Respiratory Therapist certificate from the National Board for Respiratory Care
  • An advanced certificate is also available to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist
  • Speciality certifications include:
    • Adult Critical Care Specialty
    • Certificate of Added Qualification in Neonatal Pediatric Transport
    • Certified Respiratory Therapist - Sleep Disorders Specialty
    • Certificate of Completion - Bronchoscopy
Things to look for in a program
  • According to O*Net Online, just 12% of Respiratory Therapy Technicians complete a bachelor’s degree
  • For those looking to do an associate’s only, find a reputable community college or university program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care 
  • Ensure the program features sufficient supervised, hands-on practical experience in a clinical setting
  • A bachelor’s isn’t required for all Respiratory Tech jobs, but it helps applicants be competitive. Check into bachelor’s programs to ensure all associate-level credits would be transferable 
  • Whether attending a community college, vocational school, or four-year university, screen their their stats for acceptance and graduation rates, plus enrollment, class sizes, and job placement rates after graduation
  • Read up on the school’s career resources to see how they can help you get a job as soon as possible after graduation. Many programs partner with local employers!
Things to do in High School and College
  • Study hard in classes related to math, physics, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, and pharmacology
  • Look into internships or volunteer opportunities that can get you experience working in clinical settings. Any practical exposure to patients can be useful later
  • If time permits, study in advance for the Certified Respiratory Therapist certificate
    • An associate’s must be completed before admission, but you can still prepare early
    • The National Board for Respiratory Care lists a Detailed Content Outline showing what’s on the 160 question Therapist Multiple-Choice exam
    • The site also features a free practice exam, self-assessment, and exam FAQs
  • Learn about the various diseases, disorders, and other factors that affect lung health
  • Grow your professional network to learn about resources, job-seeking tips, and future openings
  • Study the missions of associated professional organizations, such as:
    • American Association for Respiratory Care
    • American Lung Association
    • American Thoracic Society
    • National Board for Respiratory Care
    • Respiratory Care Board
Typical Roadmap
Respiratory Therapy Technician Gladeo Roadmap
How to land your 1st job
  • Have all necessary educational, certification, and licensure requirements taken of care, as applicable for the specific job you want and the state it’s in
  • Carefully read job ads to ensure you meet all listed qualifications and prior experience
  • List your education and work experiences on your resume, taking care to utilize keywords and phrasing that will address all posted requirements listed in the ad
  • Include details that corroborate and support your resume points, such as quantifiable data and impacts your actions had
  • Have someone (an editor or resume writer) assist or at least review your resume for errors
  • Search for openings on the big job portals like Indeed.com, Monster, and Glassdoor, but also use Google Careers as a backup search tool 
  • Beef up your LinkedIn profile. Hiring managers will look at your digital footprint, to include LinkedIn and perhaps even your social media activity
  • Put your network to use! CNBC writes that as many as 80% of jobs are found thanks to one person the job seeker knows, so the more connected you are, the better your odds!
  • Ask old supervisors and teachers to be reference providers or to write recommendation letters for you (Chances are, someone did that kind service for them in their past, so never feel shy about asking. They’re probably happy to do it for you!)
  • Be polished and ready for interviews. Dress like a professional and read up on Respiratory Therapy Tech interview questions and answers, such as “How would you deal with an angry patient?”
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Respiratory Therapy Technician openings are increasing, which means there’s plenty of room for advancement, too
  • If you started out with an associate’s degree, consider pursuing that bachelor’s degree next
  • If you haven’t completed the Registered Respiratory Therapist certification, study up and knock that out to show you’re ready for more responsibility
  • Keep up with changes in the field, by learning about new technologies, treatments, and therapies. Don’t stop learning new things! 
  • Always be a consummate professional at work and a dedicated patient advocate
  • Offer compassionate patient care to those you assist, and treat them the way you’d want to be treated in their situation
  • Learn from everyone around you and become an invaluable team player
  • Mentor new staff and be the example for them to follow
  • Get out of your local bubble and engage with professional peers at state and national organizational conferences and meetings. See our Recommended Tools/Resources section for a list of professional organization websites! 
  • Get to know the job inside-and-out, and think about writing articles for reputable online news sites or even medical journals like Respiratory Therapy, the Journal of Pulmonary Technique and AARC Times
Recommended Resources

Websites

  • AARC Times
  • American Association for Respiratory Care
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American Lung Association
  • American Thoracic Society
  • California Society for Respiratory Care
  • Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy
  • Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care
  • National Board for Respiratory Care
  • Respiratory Care Board
  • Respiratory Therapy, the Journal of Pulmonary Technique
  • RT for Decision Makers in Respiratory Care

Books

  • Principles And Practice of Mechanical Ventilation, by Martin Tobin 
  • Egan's Fundamentals of Respiratory Care, by Robert M. Kacmarek PhD RRT FAARC 
  • Linz's Comprehensive Respiratory Diseases, by Sindee Karpel 
  • The Comprehensive Respiratory Therapist Exam Review, by James R. Sills MEd CPFT RRT 
  • FIGHT BACK: Beat the Coronavirus, by Chauncey W. Crandall MD, et. al. 
Plan B

Respiratory Therapy Technicians have demanding, stressful jobs. They bear a large civic responsibility to care for persons suffering from severe, sometimes life-threatening issues! These are dream jobs for some, but a bit too much for others. 
 
A few alternative careers to consider can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It lists the following similar occupations: 

  • Athletic Trainers
  • Exercise Physiologists
  • Medical and Health Services Managers
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Physical Therapists
  • Radiation Therapists
  • Registered Nurses

 

Newsfeed

Jobs by
Source: Interviews, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Online Courses and Tools