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Respiratory Therapist

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

Respiratory therapists are the health care professionals who work to prevent and treat breathing problems. Specific tasks include:

  • Planning treatment and explaining it to patients;
  • Setting up and operating equipment like oxygen, gas and mist inhalation apparatus;
  • Monitoring patients undergoing treatment and notifying medical personnel about progress and problems;
  • Making rounds with doctors and other members of a medical team;
  • Showing patients and their families how to use the equipment at home;
  • Teaching patients how to do breathing exercises;
  • Carrying out diagnostic tests of patients’ cardiopulmonary functions;
  • Inspecting and testing equipment;
  • Cleaning, sterilizing and making minor repairs to equipment

How Do I Become a Respiratory Therapist?

There are two levels of respiratory therapist: the certified respiratory therapist and the registered respiratory therapist. All respiratory therapists have to complete an accredited two-year associate's degree or a four-year bachelor's degree program. These graduates can then take a national exam that leads to the Certified Respiratory Therapist credential (CRT). CRTs are then eligible to go on and take two more exams leading to the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. In addition, the National Board for Respiratory Care offers credentials by exam in other specialized areas: Perinatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist (CRT credential plus one year of clinical experience required); Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist; Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (The CPFT credential is a prerequisite for this). In Virginia, respiratory therapists must be licensed.

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