What is a Respiratory Therapist?
For most people, breathing is as easy and natural as blinking. But for thousands of Canadians, breathing is a struggle. They might be accident victims, premature babies with immature lungs, heart attack and stroke patients, or people who live with asthma and emphysema. When it comes to their care, a respiratory therapist will likely play a vital role on the healthcare team.
Respiratory therapists (RTs) are healthcare professionals who assess, monitor and treat individuals with respiratory and cardio-respiratory disorders. RTs are vital members of the health care team. RTs can be found working in hospitals' intensive care units, neonatal units, operating rooms, general wards, coronary care units and emergency departments. Respiratory therapists also work in the community and other areas such as family health teams, home care, and sleep labs. RTs treat patients of all ages, from caring for infants and children to adults, including geriatric patients.
Respiratory therapists have the skills, knowledge and judgement to:
- Maintain an open airway for trauma, intensive care, and surgery patients
- Assist in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and support of critically ill patients
- Provide life support for patients who can't breathe on their own
- Attend high risk births and assist babies who have breathing problems
- Stabilize high risk patients being moved by air or ground ambulance
- Provide assistance in the delivery of general anaesthesia procedures
- Administer inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication and oxygen
- Conduct tests to measure lung function
- Teach people how to manage their chronic lung disease or to quit smoking
- Provide in-home respiratory care to adults and children
Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals. You'll find them in neonatal nurseries, operating rooms, intensive care units, general wards, and emergency departments. Many RT's work in all of these areas in their position at their place of work, whether it be in a hospital, clinic, chronic care facility, or home care environment.
In addition to the treatment and management of these diseases, RT's are responsible for the safe and effective mechanical and manual ventilation of acutely and chronically ill patients in both hospital and home care settings.
Respiratory therapists also work in the community, bringing their expertise to:
- Home care
- Asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and other clinics
- Diagnostic clinics and sleep disorder labs
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
- Medical equipment sales and service
They need good judgment, excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to maintain composure in critical medical situations.