What Does The Term “Therapist” Mean in The Role of Respiratory Therapists?

respiratory therapist

Respiratory therapists (RT) are trained to assist people with lung disorders which can lead to serious health emergencies or even become life-threatening if left untreated. These professionals help patients deal with complications arising from COPD, bronchitis, asthma, chest trauma, pneumonia, lung cancer, premature lungs, and other cardiopulmonary diseases and disorders. The term therapist refers to their focus on helping patients with mechanical techniques instead of relying solely on drugs.

There has been a high demand for respiratory therapists, especially since Covid-19 when these amazing healthcare professionals worked tirelessly to help patients with severe lung infections recover normal breathing. Industry growth for certified respiratory therapists is estimated to be 23% per year in the next 10 years as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Who is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists are certified medical professionals that provide specialized healthcare for proper lung function. They employ advanced knowledge of high-tech mechanical ventilators and other equipment for helping their patients. This is why respiratory therapist certification online has gained popularity in recent years to ensure that RTs stay updated with the latest advancements.

Certified respiratory therapists work alongside other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to provide optimal patient care. They have responsibilities in different segments of the healthcare industry, such as maternity wards, emergency rooms, critical care units, nursing care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and therapy offices. Several RCPs provide at-home patient assessment and treatment plans too.

A registered respiratory therapist works to improve outcomes for patients with emphysema, pneumonia, lung trauma, and other cardiopulmonary diseases. They provide patient treatment plans after assessing breathing. These treatment plans usually comprise breathing techniques and exercises along with the use of mechanical equipment.

They work under doctors to treat a wide range of patients, from premature infants that don’t have fully developed lungs to elderly people suffering from breathing disorders. They are responsible for administering drugs to the lungs, providing patients with oxygen, and managing mechanical ventilation.

Scope of Practice

Registered respiratory therapists may perform the following duties in a typical day:

  • Help with diagnosing breathing and lung disorders.
  • Evaluate breathing by performing studies and diagnostic tests.
  • Determine appropriate breathing treatments and therapy by consulting with physicians.
  • Analyze blood and sputum samples in lab.
  • Manage devices and equipment needed for helping patients that are unable to breathe on their own.
  • Educate patients and their families on breathing and lung disorders and the best way of managing them.

Respiratory therapy is an integral part of health sciences and requires dedicated performance indicators to allow professionals to satisfactorily complete their job duties.

Respiratory Therapy Specializations

Respiratory therapy students can choose to specialize in different fields. Several online respiratory therapy programs help prospective students and professionals in clinical practice obtain the additional certifications required. Respiratory therapy professionals can specialize in:

  • Pulmonary rehab
  • Polysomnography
  • Neonatal or pediatric
  • Critical care
  • Geriatric
  • Pulmonary diagnostics
  • Home care

Why is the Name Therapist Used in This Job Role Name?

“Therapist” is defined as an individual specializing in the therapeutic medical treatment of a disease, disorder, impairment, or injury, as per the Collins dictionary. Respiratory therapists are trained professionals that provide treatment and rehabilitation without employing drugs or surgery. Based on this, an RT may deliver drugs directly to the lungs of a patient if advised by the doctor.

Professionals providing respiratory therapy are required to meet and assess new patients, along with administering the required treatment and follow-ups. Patient education forms an integral part of their job role. They work in a wide array of healthcare settings, such as clinics, critical care units, intensive care units, and patients’ homes. Respiratory care professionals are known as therapists because they require being compassionate, detail-oriented, and patient, besides having other interpersonal skills.

They are among the few professionals within health care administration that interact with vulnerable patients that require genuine comfort along with medical treatment. Registered respiratory care professionals apply scientific knowledge and theory to tackle practical problems. It’s the respiratory therapist’s primary responsibility to employ their considerable clinical education in treating patients with respiratory dysfunctions under the supervision of a physician.

Respiratory care modalities include:

  • Breathing treatments
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Humidity aerosol therapy
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Pulmonary drainage procedures
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Practitioners may choose clinical rotations in diverse working environments, such as hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) units, diagnostic bronchoscopy laboratories, pulmonary laboratories, and long-term acute care units, among others. Professionals with bachelor’s in respiratory therapy can help patients with the following breathing conditions:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Blocked air passageways
  • Sinusitis
  • Cardiac failure
  • Chest trauma
  • Lung disease and cancer

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Focus On?

Respiratory therapists work with doctors and nurses to assess, diagnose, and treat lung and breathing conditions. They measure lung function to help patients with bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema. Job responsibilities of respiratory therapists vary as per their particular specialization.

For instance, professionals offering pediatric respiratory care will focus on neonatal and infant care. In contrast, those in the field of geriatric respiratory therapy will be concerned with breathing difficulties in older people. Respiratory therapy education programs are designed to allow an RT to interview and evaluate patients to determine the best treatment method.

Often a respiratory therapist will have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. They may have Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) or Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credentials. Responsibilities of an RT depend on the place of their work:


Hospitals are the most common workplaces for respiratory care professionals. These professionals are often part of the rapid or code response team. They assist with airway care, endotracheal intubation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and trauma patient management. They perform additional pulmonary function testing to determine the course of treatment.

They perform chest physiotherapy and draw blood samples. They remove mucous from the lungs to allow patients to breathe easier. They also administer therapeutic gases and medication for patients suffering from COPD and asthma. Finally, respiratory therapy professionals institute, maintain and monitor mechanical ventilators.

Pulmonary rehab clinics

The outpatient respiratory therapy office treats patients with pulmonary complications. This branch of health science specifically deals with breathing therapy, treatment, and check-ups. Respiratory care professionals perform a wide array of duties in these settings, such as patient education, rehabilitation, and counseling.

In-home care

RTs perform in-home care for patients unable to reach a physical location. They can train families and patients on machines and equipment for assisting with breathing.

Sleep disorder Centers

These professionals help diagnose and prepare treatment plans for patients with sleep disorders. They work with patients and perform in-lab sleep studies to determine pulmonary disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Other examples of duties within the respiratory therapy domain include:

  • Tracking progress
  • Conducting tests
  • Performing chest examinations
  • Measuring vital signs
  • Providing therapy or treatment recommendations
  • Removing lung secretions
  • Drawing blood
  • Teaching breathing exercises
  • Analyzing breath
  • Providing physical therapy
  • Managing artificial airway devices and ventilators
  • Administering aerosol therapy and medications
  • Providing breathing treatments, such as oxygen therapy

Therapists Need Continuing Training to Stay Updated

Continuing education refers to the need to learn and continue taking classes in a given field. This is usually mandatory in technically complex jobs that cannot solely rely on the knowledge imparted during higher education. Science in respiratory therapy keeps advancing at a rapid pace. This makes it necessary for professionals within the field to stay updated with the latest information.

To maintain their current license state, respiratory therapists must attend a specified number of continuing education courses in a given year. This is also necessary to help them get up to speed with the latest techniques, technologies, and best practices. Online learning has made things easy for busy professionals to get the required knowledge, such as asthma education.

Professionals in respiratory care are required to be detail oriented and well-organized. They should have strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills. Students fresh from regular and online programs have these qualities when they enter the respiratory therapy domain. However, most states have realized that it is not enough for an RT professional to have a bachelor of science degree.

This field of healthcare is advancing at a rapid pace, especially after SARS-CoV-2. Professionals need to continue their education after completing the mandatory respiratory therapy program. Except for Alaska, every other state requires respiratory care professionals to obtain a state license. Respiratory therapists need to complete continuing education respiratory therapy curriculum to maintain an active license.

There are several benefits to pursuing continuing education for the professional taking them, the facility hiring them, and the patients being handled by them. These are:

License retention

Continuing education courses are a regulatory or legal requirement for many professions. This differs from the respiratory care program required to work as advanced degree respiratory therapists. Continuing education credits allow therapists to operate legally within their field. You must complete a minimum number of classes, conferences, or lectures to get your CE certificate.

Improved techniques

A key and obvious benefit of continuing education credits are to learn and master new techniques in the respiratory care field. This is particularly essential for veteran respiratory therapists who may not access the latest updates as online students pursuing a respiratory therapy degree. You can discover new therapeutic techniques that may have made the old redundant. The knowledge you receive may significantly improve your results and patient safety.

Access to new technology

Continuing education is the only viable way of gaining new knowledge for healthcare professionals. New knowledge constantly emerges in the respiratory therapy field with technological and scientific developments. You can learn about a host of new apps, machines, and technologies you probably did not come across while completing the respiratory therapist program. You may remain unfamiliar with these new developments without continuing education courses.

Higher salaries and bonuses

Most healthcare and medical facilities want their respiratory care professionals to pursue continuing education. You may be able to switch to the administrative side by completing enough courses. This also increases your chances of attaining promotions. Hospitals generally want the most capable and best-educated people taking care of patients.

Take a break

Working with patients, day in and day out can become tedious even if you love your job. This is particularly true if you are handling the same type of responsibilities every day. Continuing education courses can give you a necessary break to do something different for a few hours daily. This is while you are treading the direction of furthering your career. Additional CE credits can shine on your resume.

Intrinsic rewards and personal development

There are several objective benefits to obtaining CE credits. There are also certain intrinsic rewards. If you like learning new techniques, you may want to maintain your continuing education credits.

What Courses are Available for Respiratory Therapists, and How are They Awarded?

Respiratory therapists require an Associate of Science in Respiratory Care degree. They must also complete an entry-level certification to work as a Certified Respiratory Therapist. You can pursue an applied science degree and the required certification course to work as a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RT). Regardless of the level, you are required to attain a specific number of CE credits as mandated by your state.

Most states require CEUs to be completed yearly, while others may want them completed every two years. You can achieve your continuing education goals through online courses, seminars, and conferences. There are specific regulations regarding the acceptability of online courses and home study depending on the state you are licensed in.

Many states require CE courses from organizations accredited by the National Board for Respiratory Care and American Association for Respiratory Care. Respiratory care CE courses range in the subject matter. You can choose simple review material to advance your skills. Home study courses usually vary in the amount of CE granted and the length of the course.

In general, credits are based on the time taken to impart the same knowledge in a lecture setting. Objectives, outlines, post-test, answer sheets, and evaluation form part of the typical course. The answer sheet must be returned to the company that offers the course to attain the course completion certificate.

You can obtain continuing education credits by attending conferences and seminars as well. In relation to this, these can be difficult to navigate with your busy work schedule. You may not have the clinical rotations required to access the seminar, even if it’s online.

The typical respiratory care course may include coursework related to:

  • pathophysiology
  • bronchodilation
  • oxygen therapy
  • clinical respiratory care
  • chest physical therapy
  • electrocardiography
  • cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • life support
  • pediatric and neonatal care
  • pharmacology
  • advanced respiratory theory

Respiratory therapists perform vital roles within the healthcare field. They are essential members of any healthcare team and work under the medical direction of physicians. Respiratory therapists treat all patients, from the elderly to newborn infants. They provide critical care to patients suffering from chronic illnesses. They are also called on when patients are experiencing a stroke, heart attack, or other respiratory distress from shock, drowning, or disease.

No doubt, respiratory therapists have a rewarding career. Furthermore, known techniques and training can quickly become obsolete in this field, making it necessary to stay updated through continuing education credits. The choices you make in your continuing education can significantly impact a patient’s life, making it essential for you to choose a well-established, reputable, trustworthy, and accredited course provider.

Choose TheCEPlace for High-Quality Online Continuing Education for RTs

The United States has about 100,000 respiratory therapists. A growing number of RTs trust TheCEPlace to obtain their continuing education credits. We are approved and accredited to provide CEUs to respiratory therapists in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Our online coursework is designed to be highly learner-friendly while imparting maximum information.

Choose TheCEPlace whether you want to maintain an active license or are aiming to take your career to the next level. Get your CE credits today by registering with TheCEPlace. You can also call 833-388-2600 for further information.

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