Life as a Respiratory Therapist definitely isn’t always easy. It takes a special type of person to be able to work not only as an RT but in the medical field in general. And there are certainly some crucial skills that are required. In this article, we are going to determine exactly what they are. 

Here are the top 16 skills that are required for being a Respiratory Therapist:

1. Physical Endurance

Listen, folks. Twelve hours is a long time. That’s why it’s important to have good physical endurance to work as a Respiratory Therapist, because you may be required for a procedure or at the patient’s bedside for several hours on end.

Having serviceable physical endurance also helps you to sustain repetitive tasks and work at a reasonable pace.

2. Physical Strength

You’re going to need some physical strength as well. Now I’m not talking about becoming a bodybuilder. But, depending on where you work, you may be required to carry equipment and supplies and lift up to 25 pounds. Also, you’ll need some grip strength because squeezing that darn Ambu Bag gets tiring after a while. 

3. Gross Motor Ability

This is just a general full body skill that includes being able to move within confined spaces, maintain your balance while sitting and standing, and reach above your shoulders and below your waist. 

You’ll need this everyday skill to get from one place to another in the hospital, and to complete all general tasks. 

4. Fine Motor Ability

This skill is more focused on the activities that you complete with your hands. For example, putting together a nebulizer for the patient, or squeezing the medication vials. 

5. Mobility

You’re going to need to be very mobile when working as a Respiratory Therapist. When “CODE BLUE” is announced on the overhead speakers, you will need to report to that location as quickly as possible.

This is one of the many reasons why having good mobility is a must. 

6. Hearing

Being able to hear is definitely a requirement. Going back to our previous example; how would you know to respond to the CODE BLUE announcement if you can’t hear? Not to mention hearing ventilator alarms, telephones, and pagers. And most importantly, listening to the patient’s breath sounds. Hearing is required to complete all of these tasks. Also, a good stethoscope helps as well.

7. Vision

It goes without saying, but you need good vision as well. You need to be able to see your patient in order to assess them properly for things such as hypoxia or changes in condition. 

8. Tactile

This means that Respiratory Therapists much be able to touch and feel. This may be required to feel for a pulse, temperature, tactile fremitus, edema, or subcutaneous emphysema.  

9. Smell

Working in the hospital, you’re going to have your fair share of fouls smells. When I smell poop, that’s generally my cue to abort mission and return at a later time, but hey, that’s just me. 

In all seriousness, Respiratory Therapists need to assess for unusual odors coming from the patient or environment and this requires a good sense of smell. 

10. Reading

Being able to read and comprehend is an extremely important skill for Respiratory Therapists. You need to be able to read and interpret the doctor’s orders. There may also be a time where you need to read through the nurse’s notes and patient history within the chart. 

11. Arithmetic

You’re probably thinking,”Math? What the heck do I need math for as a Respiratory Therapist?” Well, it’s generally not something you do a whole lot of, but you may need it to: calibrate equipment, compute fractions, convert numbers, count pulse and breathing rates, and read graphs and ventilator graphics.

Each of these requires math in some way, shape, or form. Not to mention performing certain calculations such as minute ventilation, temperature conversion, ideal body weight, and more. 

12. Emotional Stability

Healthcare can be extremely emotional at times. As a Respiratory Therapist, you need emotional stability in order to provide safe patient care in this rapidly changing environment. 

You may need to provide the patient with emotional support. It’s just part of working in the medical field. You must adapt in stressful situations, such as when a full cardiac arrest arrives in the emergency room. And, especially, Respiratory Therapists should always show appropriate compassion when communicating with patients. Each requires emotional stability. 

13. Analytical Thinking

Analytical thinking is required because the RT must process information, prioritize tasks, problem solve, evaluate outcomes, and transfer knowledge from one situation to another, all while using long and short-term memory. 

Problems will arise, they always do. And when they do come up, the Respiratory Therapist must be able to break the problem down and solve it as appropriately as possible. 

14. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a must, I repeat. Critical thinking is a must. It requires you to take all of the information in front of you, make a reasonable judgment, and take action. 

 In general, Respiratory Therapists use critical thinking skills to evaluate priorities and different sources of diagnostic information to help arrive at the proper patient diagnosis and treatment plan. 

15. Interpersonal

Having good interpersonal skills is required for Respiratory Therapists so that you can establish rapport with your patients and their families, and also so that you can work effectively with your cowrokers

16. Communication

This skill is required so that you can communicate effectively under any circumstance with patients, families, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff members in order to meet the goals set for the patient. You must speak clearly and distinctly in order to convey information and explain procedures. 

To work well with others (mostly doctors and nurses), you must be able to communicate effectively. 

Final Thoughts

So now you know the critical skills that are required for being a Respiratory Therapist. If you’re a student, now you know what’s expected of you during clinical rotations and whenever you obtain your first job. And if you’re already a Respiratory Therapist, you can use the information here to brush up on your skills so that you’ll be more successful at work. 

No matter where you are on your journey, if you can master each skill listed above, there’s no doubt that you will become a top-tier Respiratory Therapist in no time.


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article: