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What is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory Therapists are healthcare practitioners who diagnose and treat lung disorders. Respiratory therapists are specialists in airway management which includes being primarily responsible for maintaining an open airway for trauma, intensive care, and surgery patients. Conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation and providing life support for patients. Stabilizing or monitoring high risk patients being moved by air or ground ambulance. Assisting anesthesiologists in the operating room. Administering inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication and oxygen. Respiratory therapists are also primary clinicians in conducting tests to measure lung function and teaching people to manage their asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or to quit smoking.

Respiratory therapists work in many health care environments. In the hospital setting, respiratory therapists evaluate, treat and assist with the diagnosis of cardiopulmonary diseases. In the United States, respiratory therapists with certification as Registered Respiratory Therapists evaluate and treat patients with a great deal of autonomy under the direction of a pulmonologist. In facilities that maintain critical care transport teams respiratory therapists are a preferred addition to all types of surface or air transport.  In other settings respiratory therapists are found in schools as asthma educators, working with teachers and coaches about childhood symptoms of asthma and how to spot an emergency. In the United States, legislation has been introduced several times to allow respiratory therapists certified as asthma specialists with registered respiratory therapist certification to prescribe and manage previously diagnosed respiratory patients in physician clinics. In sleep clinics, respiratory therapists work with physicians in the diagnosis of sleep-related illnesses. Respiratory therapists in the United States are migrating toward a role with autonomy similar to the nurse practitioner, physician extender (mid-level) and physician assistant.


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Respiratory Therapy Education

In the United States and Canada, respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals who, after receiving a degree in respiratory medicine or respiratory science complete a credentialing process. After satisfactorily completing the required examinations and added to a registry, the practitioner is then eligible to apply for a license to practice in the region governed by their respective licensing body. In the United States, specialist respiratory therapists are clinicians who hold specialized credentials in a specific field of study, such as a Asthma Educator or a Neonatal & Pediatric Transport Specialist. In Canada, some similar credentialing exists, such as the Certified Respiratory Educator program. is
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