Everything You Need to Know to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Cross Country Allied
April 07, 2021 04:41 AM (GMT-04:00)
Traveler Tips

Are you thinking about a career as a respiratory therapist, or more specifically, a traveling respiratory therapist? If so, this is a summary of what your job duties will entail, as well as a list of skills that will be important to have a successful career as a respiratory therapist. You probably already know that respiratory therapists help patients with breathing disorders or diseases, such as asthma, chronic respiratory diseases and emphysema. The patients you will treat as a respiratory therapist range from newborn babies born with lung abnormalities to elderly patients with lung disease. Some of the duties you will perform on the job include the following:

  • Use various test to evaluate a patient’s lung capacity and measure the flow of oxygen
  • Perform chest physiotherapy to help patients’ clear mucus from their lungs and breathe easier
  • Connect patients to ventilators and then monitor the equipment
  • Teach patients and their families how to use breathing devices at home
  • Other tasks as decided by your specific healthcare facility workplace
  • Education and Certifications Required to be a Respiratory Therapist

At the very minimum, you will be required to obtain an associate degree to become a respiratory therapist, but many employers prefer applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Your education will include classes in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology and math. Additional classes will focus on using therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests, equipment, patient assessment, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Licensure requirements vary by state, but most states will require you to be licensed. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) currently offers two levels of respiratory therapy certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Top Skills Required of Respiratory Therapists

In addition to your formal education and licensure requirements, you may find the following skills especially helpful as you purse a career in respiratory therapy:

Physical Endurance

Many healthcare professionals, including respiratory therapists, work 12-hour shifts. Additionally, you may be asked to work overtime as needed by your specific facility. You will likely be on your feet for much of your shift, as well.

Motor Ability

As a respiratory therapist, you’ll need gross motor skills, such as being able to move around and maintain your balance in tight spaces between patients and equipment. You’ll also need to be able to use your hands for many tasks.

Mobility Skills

Respiratory therapists, and specifically those who work in hospital settings, will need to be quick on their feet, especially if an emergency situation should arise.

Excellent Vision, Hearing and Smell

As a respiratory therapist, you’ll need to see, hear, and sometimes smell cues that could indicate a patient in distress. You’ll also need these skills to operate the tools, equipment and machinery you will use on the job.

Reading Comprehension

Respiratory therapists must have excellent reading comprehension skills in order to interpret doctors’ orders, notes from a nurse or a patient’s medical history.

Basic Math

There are many situations when your math skills will come in handy as a respiratory therapist. While these aren’t necessarily going to be part of your daily activities, and any given time you may need to calibrate equipment, compute fractions, convert numbers, count a patient’s pulse and breathing rates, or read graphs and ventilator screens.

Analytical Thinking

Respiratory therapists need to be excellent analytical thinkers, as you will often be required to solve problems quickly, sometimes in stressful situations. Additionally, you will need to process information, prioritize tasks, problem solve and evaluate outcomes.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are perhaps the most important skills a respiratory therapist can possess. Most of the time, it simply means that you can evaluate priorities and understand diagnostic information. Specifically, you will need the ability to take all of the information in front of you, make a reasonable judgment and take action.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Are you a people person? The ability to establish a rapport with your patients and their families is critical to a respiratory therapist. You will also need to communicate clearly and effectively to them, as well as the numerous doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals you will partner with on a daily basis.

After you become a respiratory therapist, you’ll need to decide if you want to become part of a healthcare facility’s regular staff, or if you’d rather be a traveler. If you think the travel allied healthcare lifestyle sounds like it might suit you, check out some of our current opportunities for respiratory therapists.

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Real Talk
"Absolutely amazing to work with! Ashley Steen and Amanda Valenziano are perfection. I couldn't be happier to be working with cross country. Despite multiple recruiters calling daily it isn't always about the money but the way you are treated. Thank you for the opportunity." - Amy D RN RRT-NPS