What is a Respiratory Therapist
Most people take breathing for granted. It’s second nature, an involuntary reflex. But for the thousands of Americans who suffer from breathing problems, each breath is a major accomplishment. Those people include patients with chronic lung problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, but they also include heart attack and accident victims; premature infants; and people with cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, or AIDS.
In each case, the person will most likely receive treatment from a respiratory therapist (RT) under the direction of a physician. Respiratory therapists work to evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders.
The Role of The Respiratory Therapist
There are about 100,000 respiratory therapists in the United States. They work with patients of all ages and in many different care settings. Respiratory therapists are members of the health care team that provide respiratory care for patients with heart and lung disorders.
Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals where they perform intensive care, critical care, and neonatal procedures. They are also typically a vital part of the hospital’s lifesaving response team that handles patient emergencies. Of the more than 7,000 hospitals in this country, about 5,700 have separate respiratory care departments.
An increasing number of respiratory therapists are now working in skilled nursing facilities, physicians’ offices, home health agencies, specialized care hospitals, medical equipment supply companies, and patients’ homes.
Respiratory therapists perform procedures that are both diagnostic and therapeutic. Some of these activities include:
Education and Training
The Professional Association
A number of respiratory therapists are members of their national organization, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC). The AARC has more than 35,000 members in 50 state chapters and three international ones.
The Association is primarily responsible for developing educational opportunities for its members and ensuring that the standards of care and practice in the profession are developed and maintained. One ongoing project of the Association is to develop and upgrade written clinical practice guidelines, or standards, for the respiratory care profession as well as for use by government agencies and other health groups. In addition, the AARC develops materials that members can use in their community health promotion and disease prevention activities.
The AARC monitors both federal and state legislative and regulatory activity that might affect the health and health care of this nation, such as issues related to Medicare, smoking, or hiring practices of health care workers.
The need for respiratory care professionals is expected to grow in the coming years due to the large increase in the elderly population; the impact of environmental problems that have already contributed to the yearly rise in number of reported asthma cases; and technological advances in the treatment of heart attack, cancer, and accident victims, as well as premature babies.
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