Respiratory Care, also known as respiratory therapy, is the allied health profession responsible for caring for patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system. Respiratory care is a dynamic and exciting health profession offering many opportunities for the new graduate.
Areas of respiratory care include basic care (oxygen, aerosol, and chest physiotherapy), critical care (ventilator management and physiologic monitoring), perinatal and pediatric respiratory care, cardiopulmonary diagnostics, pulmonary laboratory, home care, and pulmonary rehabilitation.
The respiratory therapist sees a diverse group of patients ranging from the newborn and pediatric patients to adults and the elderly. Disease states or conditions often requiring respiratory care include asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, infant respiratory distress syndrome, and conditions brought on by shock, trauma or post-operative surgical complications.
Respiratory therapists are also involved in many specialty areas in the hospital such as newborn labor and delivery, neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, pulmonary function laboratory, sleep laboratory, and adult intensive care units. The respiratory therapist with a baccalaureate degree is prepared to deliver respiratory care in the hospital, home, and alternate care sites.
The respiratory therapist with a baccalaureate degree is an advanced level practitioner and is eligible to sit for the national board exam for entry-level certification, to become registered as an advanced practitioner, and to take specialty examinations in perinatal/pediatrics and pulmonary function technology.
What is a Respiratory Therapist?
You can live without food for a few weeks. You can live without water for few days. But if you are deprived of air, you will die within minutes. In terms of survival, breathing is your most immediate need.
Most people take breathing for granted. It's second nature, an involuntary reflex. Yet for 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, yet may also include heart attack and accident victims; premature infants; and people with cystic fibrosis, lung cancer or AIDS.
In each case, the person would most likely receive treatment from a respiratory therapist (RT). Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician and assist in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with these types of breathing disorders.
The Role of the Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists work with patients of all ages and in many different care settings. Respiratory therapists are vital members of the hospital's lifesaving response team. Respiratory therapists perform procedures that are both diagnostic and therapeutic.
- Obtain and analyze sputum and breath specimens.
- Draw and analyze blood samples to determine the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide and other gases in order to assess the best course of treatment for a patient
- Measure the capacity of a patient's lungs to determine if there is impaired function.
- Perform stress tests and other studies of the cardiopulmonary system.
- Study disorders of people with disruptive sleep patterns.
- Operate and maintain various types of highly sophisticated equipment to administer oxygen or to assist with breathing.
- Employ mechanical ventilation for treating patients who cannot breathe adequately on their own.
- Monitor and manage therapy that will help a patient recover lung function.
- Administer medications in aerosol form to help alleviate breathing problems and to help prevent respiratory infections.
- Monitor equipment and patient response to therapy
- Conduct rehabilitation activities, such as low-impact aerobic exercise classes to help patients who suffer from chronic lung problems.
- Maintain a patient's artificial airway, one that may be in place to help the patient who can not breathe through normal means.
- Conduct smoking cessation programs for the hospital patients and other patients in the community who want to kick the tobacco habit. (Young teens to adult to elderly population.)
Patients treated by respiratory therapists range from premature infants to the elderly. Therapists work with adults who have chronic lung problems such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Therapists also work with children who have asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Respiratory therapists are present during high-risk deliveries, where a premature infant may be at risk for breathing complications. And when accident victims lose the ability to breathe on their own, respiratory therapists help administer lifesaving oxygen. Respiratory therapists are members of the response teams that handle patient emergencies in the hospital.
People who have debilitating lung problems, whether from disease or trauma, may never regain their full lung function. However, respiratory therapists work with them to rehabilitate their pulmonary systems to their fullest capacity.
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