Life as a respiratory therapist can be difficult at times. It takes a special type of person to work in the medical field and treat patients who are sick.

They must have a particular set of skills in order to succeed. In this article, we will discuss the top skills that are required for working as a respiratory therapist. Keep reading if you want to learn more!

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist is a health care professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory disorders. Therefore, they essentially care for patients with conditions of the heart and lungs.

Respiratory therapists work with patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. They typically work in hospitals, but they may also work in clinics, home care settings, and other healthcare facilities.

respiratory therapist treating patient illustration

What Skills are Needed to be a Respiratory Therapist?

There are a variety of skills that are needed in order to work successfully as a respiratory therapist. Some examples include:

  1. Physical endurance
  2. Physical strength
  3. Gross motor ability
  4. Fine motor ability
  5. Mobility
  6. Hearing
  7. Vision
  8. Tactile
  9. Smell
  10. Reading
  11. Arithmetic
  12. Emotional stability
  13. Analytical thinking
  14. Critical thinking
  15. Interpersonal
  16. Communication

Again, each of these skills is essential for working as a respiratory therapist. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each one.

Physical Endurance

Respiratory therapists are required to work 12-hour shifts. If you weren’t aware, that is a very long time to be on your feet and moving around.

This is why it’s important to have physical endurance when working in this profession. You need to be able to withstand long hours and still have the energy to treat your patients properly.

Physical Strength

Not only do you need to have endurance, but you also need to be physically strong. Respiratory therapists are constantly lifting and moving patients.

They also have to move equipment around, which can be quite heavy. So, if you’re not physically strong, this job may not be for you.

Gross Motor Ability

Gross motor skills refer to the ability to use your large muscles to move your body. This is important because respiratory therapists have to constantly be moving.

They need to be able to move within confined spaces and maintain their balance while sitting or standing. The job also requires the ability to reach above your shoulders and below your waist.

You’ll need this everyday skill to get from one place to another in the hospital while completing general tasks on the job.

Fine Motor Ability

Fine motor ability focuses more on the activities that you must complete with your hands.

This is an important skill for respiratory therapists because they have to be able to complete delicate tasks. Some examples include:

They also have to be able to measure and record a patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate and oxygen saturation.

Mobility

Respiratory therapists are required to be very mobile in order to move quickly throughout the hospital during emergency situations.

Have you ever heard of the term “Code Blue?”

This is when a patient’s heart stops, and they need to be resuscitated. In these situations, a “Code Blue” announcement is made throughout the hospital.

The rapid response team, including respiratory therapists, must be able to respond quickly in order to help save the life of the patient.

Hearing

Respiratory therapists actually need to have excellent hearing. This is because they need to be able to listen to a patient’s lung sounds with a stethoscope.

It’s a device that amplifies a patient’s breath sounds and provides helpful information about their condition.

Respiratory therapists must also be able to hear ventilator alarms, pagers, and important announcements, such as a “Code Blue.”

This is our top-recommended stethoscope for medical professionals.

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Vision

Of course, respiratory therapists must also have good vision. They need to be able to see a patient in order to perform an assessment and provide the necessary treatment.

Good vision allows respiratory therapists to notice symptoms such as hypoxemia, which requires immediate intervention.

Tactile

Tactile, or the sense of touch, is important for respiratory therapists because they are required to perform skills such as:

  • Checking a patient’s pulse
  • Chest palpitation
  • Assessing respiratory rate
  • Assessing body temperature

This skill allows respiratory therapists to learn a lot about a patient’s condition using their ability to touch.

Smell

The sense of smell is another one that you might not think would be important for respiratory therapists, but it actually is.

By working in a hospital, you’re going to experience a fair share of foul smells. This can, unfortunately, be a turnoff for some people.

However, the ability to smell unusual odors can actually tell you a lot about a patient’s condition. That is why this is an important skill for medical professionals.

Reading

Reading is an important skill for respiratory therapists because they need to be able to understand a patient’s medical record.

This document includes important information such as:

  • The patient’s medical history
  • Current medications
  • Allergies
  • Procedures that have been performed

Reading comprehension is also important when it comes to being able to interpret the doctor’s order. Otherwise, how would you know how to treat the patient?

respiratory therapist reading book

Arithmetic

You’re probably wondering, “Why do respiratory therapists need to know how to do math?”

Well, it turns out that arithmetic is actually a very important skill for this profession. Some examples include:

  • Calculating medication dosages
  • Calibrating equipment
  • Counting pulse and breathing rates

This skill is also required to perform certain calculations, including minute ventilation, temperature conversion, and calculating a patient’s ideal body weight (IBW).

Emotional Stability

Emotional stability is probably one of the most important skills for respiratory therapists because they need to be able to handle a variety of emotions.

They will work with patients who are:

  • Angry
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • In pain

It’s important for respiratory therapists to be able to remain calm in order to provide the best possible care for their patients. This is also helpful when dealing with difficult patients.

Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking is important for respiratory therapists because they need to be able to solve problems quickly.

They might need to troubleshoot equipment that isn’t working properly or come up with a plan to treat a patient who isn’t responding to treatment.

It’s also helpful to be able to evaluate outcomes and transfer knowledge from one situation to another, all while using long and short-term memory.

Problems will always arise while on the job. Therefore, respiratory therapists must be able to break down the problem and come up with a solution in a timely manner.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is another important skill for respiratory therapists because it allows them to make sound decisions.

This might include making a decision about whether or not to intubate a patient or when to start chest compressions.

Respiratory therapists need to be able to think quickly and make decisions that could mean the difference between life and death.

Interpersonal

Interpersonal skills are important for respiratory therapists because they need to be able to connect with patients and their family members. This includes being able to:

  • Explain procedures
  • Give instructions
  • Provide support

It’s also important to be able to build trust and establish rapport with patients. After all, they are entrusting you with their lives.

Communication

Communication is an important skill because respiratory therapists must be able to communicate effectively with patients, their family members, and other members of the healthcare team.

Respiratory therapists must be able to speak clearly and distinctly in order to provide instructions and explain procedures.

Listening is one of the most important aspects of communication. Therefore, respiratory therapists need to be able to listen carefully to their patients in order to accurately assess their condition.

respiratory therapists communication

Final Thoughts

Respiratory therapy is a great career choice for those who are interested in helping others. It’s a challenging and demanding profession, but it’s also very rewarding.

As you can see, there are a variety of skills that are required for working as a respiratory therapist. If you think you have what it takes, then don’t hesitate to pursue this career.

Be sure to check out a similar article that we wrote on how to be an ethical respiratory therapist. Thanks for reading!

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.

References

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Medical Disclaimer: The information provided by Respiratory Therapy Zone is for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition.