It takes a lot of people to keep a hospital running, but most of those professionals remain in the background. That means that if you’re only in the hospital briefly for a routine procedure or a broken bone, you may never meet them or learn their titles. For those spending more time inpatient, however, these members of the allied health professions are critical to their care – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of respiratory therapists, in particular, has come to the fore.
Respiratory Therapists Perform Many Tasks
Respiratory therapists are not nurses or doctors, but work alongside these key team members to manage breathing problems, ranging from asthma and cystic fibrosis to sleep apnea and lung development issues associated with premature birth. They often treat patients who are reliant on ventilators, perform lung function tests, and provide critical respiratory medications and other treatments.
Among the many conditions that respiratory therapists treat is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a common result of severe cases of COVID-19. This has placed respiratory therapists on the frontlines of the crisis, alongside nurse practitioners, doctors – particularly anesthesiologists who share a specialization in respiratory issues, and other providers. Respiratory therapists also treat patients on an outpatient basis and play a critical role in rehabilitating COVID-19 patients, as well as other patients who have spent a long time on a ventilator, or suffered other respiratory trauma.
You Only Need An Associate’s Degree
If the work of a respiratory therapist sounds interesting to you, then there’s good news: the field is rapidly growing, with an expected increase of over 27,000 jobs between 2018 and 2028, and you typically only need an associate’s degree to enter the field. You can find respiratory therapy programs at community colleges and vocational schools, as well as many other programs. It’s also a relatively high paying job, relative to the educational requirements.
Once you’ve completed your initial education and state licensing, you’ll typically need to complete continuing education courses in respiratory care on a regular basis to maintain your certification. These courses supplement your education, providing lessons in new techniques and research, and helping respiratory therapists develop more sophisticated knowledge of the field.
You Can Find Your Best Fit
One of the great things about working as a respiratory therapist is that, as a field, it offers many opportunities for professionals to find their perfect fit. Do you prefer to work with infants or children? There are plenty of roles for respiratory therapists specifically in neonatology and pediatrics. Do you thrive in a fast-paced setting where you have to perform under pressure? Then you could be suited to working with patients in the ICU and trauma settings. This is a big part of what sets respiratory therapy apart from other healthcare jobs – it offers multiple opportunities for advancement and a wide variety of tasks and professional settings at every level.
Working as a respiratory therapist isn’t easy. People’s lives depend on you and your ability to master health technology, interpret data, and make quick decisions, and not everyone can handle the pressure. For those drawn to the helping professions, however, respiratory therapy offers exciting opportunities doing work that really matters.