All respiratory therapists must complete respiratory therapy training as a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), or as a Certified Respiratory Therapy Technician (CRTT). Students earn CRT licensing by completing basic respiratory therapist accredited courses and successfully passing the final exam. RRT credentials are earned for advanced training completed through a bachelor's or master's degree program followed by passing two additional exams. After completion of their course of study, then graduates must pass a certification exam in order to be licensed to work in the United States.
Respiratory therapists perform patient interviews and evaluations, as well as limited physical exams. They run diagnostic tests of patients' breathing, lung capacity, and blood gases. Some of these tests involve having patients breathe into a machine that measures pulmonary function while inhaling and exhaling. Therapists draw arterial blood samples for use in a blood gas analyzer. What they don't do is make treatment decisions. Instead, they report any test results to the patient's physician, who will then decide which treatments are required. A respiratory therapist will also assist the anesthesiologist, where they will monitor and regulate breathing for the patient during surgery.
Respiratory therapists deal with a variety of patients each day, from infants to the elderly. Under physicians' orders, they examine and assess patients with any type of cardiopulmonary condition, then perform necessary treatment. A therapist can assist with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and can setup respirator or ventilator on patients requiring breathing assistance. The respiratory therapist must continue monitoring the patient and decrease breathing treatments as necessary.
Trained respiratory therapists deal with different types of cardiopulmonary emergencies. Many medical facilities around the country have respiratory therapists assigned full-time to the ER. This allows for immediate assessment and examination of any patient who comes in experiencing cardiopulmonary problems or airway constriction. They perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and run electrocardiograms (EKG).
One of the therapies respiratory therapists perform on a variety of patients is chest physiotherapy, also known as "chest compressions". They vibrate or gently pound on the chest or back, causing mucus buildup in the lungs to loosen so it can be expelled. Often they perform this therapy on those with cystic fibrosis. Those who have had surgery will also get this procedure to prevent fluid from building up in their lungs from the anesthesia used during surgery.
A Respiratory Therapist (RT) is a vital part of the medical community due to the experience and skills received during their training. A respiratory therapist will treat, at some time or another, almost everyone diagnosed with any type of cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) problem, from emphysema to lung cancer, from pneumonia to congestive heart failure.