Respiratory Therapists

Last updated December 31, 2014

Respiratory therapist (RTs) work in a wide variety of settings, from critical-care wards to private homes, dealing with people in every stage of life.

When the hospital PA system announces a “code” (life-threatening emergency), you can be sure an RT is on the scene. When an elderly patient with emphysema is admitted to a long-term-care facility, an RT is there to help develop a respiratory care plan and set up equipment. When a premature baby is born, an RT helps to evaluate the newborn’s heart, lungs, and circulation.

Respiratory therapists specialize in breathing disorders. Under a doctor's supervision, they find the source of a patient's breathing problem and treat it with oxygen, medication, or both.

“[RTs] don’t just run the machines -- you may be called on to exercise a high degree of competence and critical thinking.” Georgine W. Bills, Program Director, Respiratory Therapy, Weber State University

Are You Ready To...?

  • Use clues to identify breathing problems
  • Help critically ill patients breathe
  • Operate machines
  • Be part of a health care team
  • Keep up with new technology

It Helps To Be...

A critical reader who is focused on detail. You should also be an excellent communicator and effective team member, not to mention good with your hands and with machines.

Make High School Count

  • Do your best in biology, physics, and chemistry.
  • Build math skills. You’ll use them on the job -- to compute drug dosages, for example.
  • Study a foreign language so that you can communicate with more patients.
  • Sign up for psychology. A solid understanding of human nature will help you care for patients.
  • Volunteer in a hospital to learn the lay of the land.

Did You Know?

Certified RTs can take the registered respiratory therapist exam, which qualifies them for higher-level jobs.