CAREER SPOTLIGHT: RESPIRATORY THERAPIST
Respiratory therapists are healthcare practitioners who diagnose and treat people who suffer from heart and lung problems. They typically work in a hospital setting but sometimes visit patients in their homes. There are also specialists within the profession, and they help people who have asthma, cystic fibrosis or sleep disorders. They can also be anesthesia assistants, be involved in pulmonary research or provide emergency care for patients suffering from hearts attacks or stroke.
Kari is known as a BSRC, RRT, NPS (Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Care, Registered Respiratory Therapist, Neonatal/ Pediatric Specialist). She says that technically-minded people are often drawn to the field, since it's essential that they know the complex life-saving machines. "Typically, people may enter the field because they or someone they know has had asthma, COPD, or other lung disease," she says. After working in a hospital for 8 years, Kari currently has a job as an educator/clinical specialist for a specialized infant ventilator company. "I now travel around and educate folks not only on the machine, but also on protecting little lungs from damage when they are sick," she explains.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that respiratory therapists can expect to earn $54,280 annually, with a growth rate that is higher than average by 28%.
Respiratory therapists are required to complete either a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree. Upon graduation, they are eligible to take a national voluntary examination that, upon passing, leads to the credential Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT).
Subsequently they may take two more examinations that lead to the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. The Colorado Society for Respiratory Care provides a list of schools that offer programs.
What's a typical day like for a therapist? Kari reports that most hospitals have 12-hour shifts, and respiratory therapists work in all areas of the hospital -- including general patient care, intensive care, or neonatal and pediatric units. They also assess patients for lung disease, provide medical therapy, manage patients on ventilators and perform diagnostic procedures. In addition, RTs might be educators, sales reps, work in home care or in clinics.
RT professionals are also involved in preventive programs, such as the annual Thomas L. Petty Moving Mountains Conference, which is a lung health conference designed to help patients. The Colorado Society for Respiratory Care has listings of other events, licensure information and education resources to start a career in respiratory care.
Kari says that her most satisfying moments are working with babies: "When I was in the hospital, seeing those tiny patients you thought would never make it not only survive but survive to live a normal, healthy life...It is fun to see them down the road and how well they are doing."
Online resources for a career as a Respiratory Therapist: