These are some of the most important skills Respiratory Therapy students should acquire to learn in clinical rotations.

As a Respiratory Therapy student, you’ve definitely got a lot on your plate. From schoolwork to homework, there’s never a shortage of things on the to-do list. And it goes for clinical rotations as well because there are some particular skills Respiratory Therapy students should acquire. These skills are necessary for your completion of the course, as well as for you becoming a competent practicing Respiratory Therapist someday.

Below, we are going to list out exactly what skills your instructors will expect you to learn and know once you’ve been through clinical rotations.

1. Recommend and deliver the appropriate pharmacology regimen to a patient.

You’ll learn all about pharmacology in class, but you’ll be expected to know what drugs to give during clinicals. Is the patient wheezing? Do they have excessive secretions? You should know which drugs to give this patient and how often. You can click here for more practice questions on pharmacology.

2. Abide by proper infection control guidelines and standards associated with equipment and procedures.

This one is important as well. Is you patient in islation? If so, what extra articles should you wear in order to protect yourself, as well as your other patients? Also, you should know what types of equipment are disposable and which are reusable. You must properly sterilize or disinfect the reuasable equipment.

3. Implement the appropriate medical charting that documentation.

As you’ll learn if you haven’t already, in the medical field, if it wasn’t charted then it never happened. You will need to learn how to chart and what exactly you should be documenting. The process is different for each facility but the underlying principles are the same.

4. Know and be able to describe and differentiate between the different abnormalities of the sternum.

This comes easy with experience working as a Respiratory Therapist, but as a student, during clinicals is the perfect time to learn. What do you notice as you access the patient’s sternum? Does it stick out externally or does it cave in and what does this mean? You will be expected to learn about the abnormalities of the sternum.

5. Know about the appearance of digital clubbing and it’s causes.

What exactly is digital clubbing? What does it look like, and when you see it, what does it mean for the patient? You probably already know that digital clubbing is when the tips of the fingers are enlarged and that’s its common in COPD patients, but why? You will need to recognize this on your patients.

6. Know and be able to differentiate the various spinal abnormalities and their effects on the respiratory system.

Lordosis, kyphosis, scoliosis? What do they mean? What are their differences, and how do they affect the respiratory system. You will need to be able to recognize this on your patients.

7. Be able to perform the proper technique to palpate and inspect the chest.

Inspecting the chest of your patient is something Respiratory Therapists do during an everyday assessment. In clinicals, you must learn the proper technique in order to do it effectively. This leads us to our next point.

8. Be able to differentiate between the various tissue percussion notes.

Percussion is the act of contacting the tissue of your patient, generally over the lungs area. But what do the different sounds mean? Hyperresonance, resonance, flatness, dullness? You will need to learn what each sounds means and be able to recognize each in the field.

9. Know about and learn to properly use your stethoscope.

This includes knowing the most common types of stethoscopes and their advantages and disadvantages. Know how and where should to ascultate the patient in order to get the desired results. Check out our ultimate list of the best stethoscopes for Respiratory Therapy students.

10. Know and be able to describe the various respiratory patterns, rates, and ranges.

This includes being able to know and recognize the difference between each of the normal and abnormal breath sounds.

11. Know about and understand blood pressure.

This includes knowing about the normal and abnormal blood pressure ranges, and even the causes of hemodynamic instability and stability. You will be able to describe the various factors that influence blood pressure such as pumping mechanism, resistance elasticity, and viscosity of the cardiovascular system. What is hypertension? How about hypotension? You will learn about how our treatment methods affect the patient’s blood pressure. 

12. Know how to assess the patient’s work of breathing.

You do this while you’re performing an assessment on the patient. Are they working harder than normal? Are they using their accessory muscles? If so, why and what does this mean? How should you proceed? This is something you will learn and be expected to remember.

13. Understand the significance of the characteristics of the patient’s pulse.

You should be able to understand the normal pulse ranges for adults and children. Also, know the causes of abnormal pulses and how rhythm and strength play an important role.

14. Know the significance of measuring patient’s body temperatures.

This includes knowing about the different temperature ranges. Also know the differences in degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius for all patient populations and their causes.

15. Gain a basic understanding of how to operate the mechanical ventilator.

And last but most certainly not least, you will definitely need to begin understanding how to operate the ventilator. Of course, this will take some time. And you won’t be thrown to the wolves, per se. But during your clinical rotation is the perfect time to start grasping the concepts of how it works, when it’s appropriate, and when you should make necessary changes.


Your clinical rotations are one of the most difficult parts of Respiratory Therapy school, and yet also one of the most rewarding and beneficial parts, all at the same time. You will be expected to learn a ton of information, and that’s okay.

It may seem hard at first but it will all come to you with time. Keep watching. Keep learning. Keep working hard. It will all be worth it in the end.