So many times after I tell people what I do for my job they ask, “What is a Respiratory Therapist?” Without getting too in depth with medical lingo and terminology, I am going to give you a brief description of what we do and see on a daily basis. So if this is the reason you are reading this post, to find out a quick and easy to understand description of what a Respiratory Therapist actually does, then this is the article for you.

So what exactly is a Respiratory Therapist?

Heart and Lungs. Those are the two key words that really describe what we do. We assess and treat patients with both acute and chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system (i.e. the heart and lungs). This includes well-known diseases such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, pneumonia, cardiovascular disorders, and trauma, among many others. Therefore, it is vitally important for a respiratory therapist to have a broad knowledge understanding of the pathology of the heart and lungs.

Where do Respiratory Therapists work?

Respiratory therapists usually mostly work in hospitals. Within the hospital, we can commonly be found in the on the general floor, acute care, intensive care unit, emergency room, newborn and pediatric intensive care unit, or in the pulmonary diagnostics laboratory or the hospital. So yeah, we work pretty much everywhere. Outside the hospital setting, a respiratory therapist will work in pulmonary rehabilitation, home health care, education institutions, as well as just teaching patients the importance of and how to quit smoking and prevent diseases. There is a wide range of opportunities for a respiratory therapist to choose to work.

Job Duties

All of the tasks of a respiratory therapist all fall under an umbrella of these three primary duties: 1) Treatment, 2) Diagnosis, and 3) Recommendation. We help diagnose the patient with their lung disease or breathing disorder, recommend how we should treat the patient, and then follow through with the treatment. Not only do we have to understand the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the patient, we also have to have a comprehensive knowledge of the machines and equipment we use to provide treatment.

Here is a list of just a few of the responsibilities and tasks of Respiratory Therapists:

  • Managing mechanical ventilators for patients on life support
  • Administering aerosol-based medications for breathing treatments
  • Using equipment related to cardiopulmonary therapy
  • Drawing blood gases out of arteries to determine levels of oxygen and other gases
  • Managing artificial airways (intubation)
  • Assessing lung capacity to determine impairment or proper function
  • Analyzing chest x-rays
  • Analyzing sputum specimens
  • Assessing vital signs
  • Performing tests in pulmonary rehabilitation (stress tests, etc.)
  • Performing studies and research related to the cardiopulmonary system
  • Counseling individuals on asthma education and smoking cessation
  • Working with a team of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals



Respiratory Therapists always practice under the medical direction of a physician. As such, we are always a vital part of the medical team. Also, working along side of nurses, physical therapists, and laboratory technicians.

Maybe you are here because you know someone who is a respiratory therapist and you were just wondering exactly what their job entails. Maybe you are here to decide if respiratory therapy would be a good fit for a possible career choice in the future. Or do you want to know how to become a respiratory therapist? Now you have a brief overview and understanding of what is that we do, coming directly from the mouth of a registered respiratory therapist (RRT). I hope this information has been valuable to you. If you want to stay updated on more information regarding the field of respiratory therapy, be sure to follow along with our blog post and check out some of the featured articles. Also, you can keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter.