A respiratory therapist is a medical professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory disorders. They work closely with doctors and other medical staff to provide the best possible care for their patients.
The scope of practice for respiratory therapists has expanded significantly over the past few years. With the advent of new technology and treatments, RTs can now provide care for a wider range of patients than ever before.
In this article, we will take a look at the scope of practice for respiratory therapists and define their role in the medical field.
Respiratory Care Scope of Practice
According to the AARC, “respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals whose responsibilities include patient assessment, disease management, diagnostic evaluation, management, education, rehabilitation, and care of patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system.”
The scope of practice for respiratory therapists includes the application of technology and the use of protocols across various healthcare settings. Some examples include:
- Physician’s offices
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Patient’s homes
A respiratory therapist is responsible for the diagnosis of respiratory disorders using a variety of methods. These include but are not limited to:
- Collecting physiologic specimens
- Analyzing physiologic specimens
- Interpreting physiologic data
- Performing cardiopulmonary studies
- Performing neurophysiologic studies
- Performing sleep disorder studies
- Pulmonary function studies
- Analyzing vital signs
The diagnostic responsibilities of a respiratory therapist also extend to the interpretation of data and the development of treatment plans. This is supported by education and research to ensure that the latest evidence-based practices are being used.
The treatment responsibilities of a respiratory therapist include but are not limited to:
- Delivering oxygen and medical gases
- Mechanical ventilator management
- Airway management
- Airway clearance therapy
- Aerosol drug therapy
- Humidity and bland aerosol therapy
- Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation
- Hemodynamic monitoring
- Sleep support
- Cardiovascular life support
- Smoking Cessation
- Asthma education
- Disease prevention
- Extracorporeal life support
- Neonatal and pediatric care
- Patient transport
- Discharge planning
Respiratory therapists use hands-on techniques to treat patients with cardiopulmonary conditions. They also provide education to patients and their families about how to manage their condition.
What Patients Do Respiratory Therapists Treat?
Respiratory therapists treat patients of all ages, from neonatal through geriatric, with various cardiopulmonary conditions. These include but are not limited to:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic bronchitis
- Lung cancer
- Lung Infections
- Pleural diseases
- Congestive heart failure
- Myocardial infarction
- Chest trauma
- Head trauma
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Myasthenia gravis
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Sleep Apnea
As you can see, respiratory therapists are an integral part of the medical team, providing care for patients with a wide range of disorders. They play a vital role in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of these conditions.
Respiratory Therapist Credentials
Respiratory therapists are required to earn and maintain credentials in order to practice respiratory care. This serves as proof of their competence and commitment to providing quality care. To be credentialed, respiratory therapists must:
- Graduate from an accredited respiratory therapy program
- Pass the national credentialing exam(s)
The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the organization responsible for credentialing respiratory therapists in the United States. There are two primary levels of credentialing: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).
CRT credential is awarded to respiratory therapists who have graduated from an accredited program and have passed the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) exam with a low-cut score.
RRT credential is awarded to respiratory therapists who have graduated from an accredited program and have passed the TMC exam with a high-cut score. In addition, they must also pass the Clinical Simulation Exam (CSE), which assesses the ability to apply knowledge and skills in a clinical setting.
Skills Needed to Be a Respiratory Therapist
It’s helpful to have certain skills and qualities if you want to be successful as a respiratory therapist. Some examples include:
- Analytical thinking
- Critical thinking
- Physical strength and endurance
- Fine and gross motor ability
- Hearing, smell, and vision
- Reading comprehension
- Emotional stability
Respiratory therapists must be able to communicate effectively with patients and their families, as well as with other members of the medical team. They must be able to think critically and analytically to make sound decisions about patient care.
RTs must also have physical strength and endurance, as they may be required to lift and transfer patients or equipment.
They must have fine and gross motor skills to manipulate equipment and perform procedures. And finally, they must have good hearing, smell, and vision to detect changes in a patient’s condition.
Is Respiratory Therapy a Growing Field?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of respiratory care is projected to grow by 23% over the next decade.
This is a much faster growth rate than the average for other occupations. Some of the primary reasons why respiratory therapists are in demand include:
- An aging population
- Sleep disorders are becoming more prevalent
- Lung infections are more common
- More people are surviving critical illnesses
- Technology is advancing
- A changing environment
- Smokers are transitioning to vaping
- Respiratory care is more accessible
In addition, respiratory therapy is a rewarding and fulfilling career, which is another reason why people are drawn to this field.
Is this profession challenging at times? Certainly.
But it’s also a field where you can make a real difference in the lives of your patients. Respiratory therapists are in demand now and will continue to be in high demand in the years to come.
As the science of medicine continues to expand, so too does the scope of practice for respiratory therapists. They are an integral part of the healthcare team, providing vital services to patients of all ages.
RTs possess therapeutic and diagnostic skills, which allows them to provide a high level of care to their patients. They are also involved in disease prevention and health education.
The scope of practice for respiratory therapists is constantly evolving and will continue to incorporate evidence-based technology and treatment modalities for years to come.
In other words, respiratory therapy is a great field to enter if you want to make a difference in the lives of others. Thanks for reading, and, as always, breathe easy, my friend.
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.