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The main duties of respiratory therapists, also called respiratory care practitioners, is to evaluate, treat and offer care for patients suffering from conditions involving breathing and cardiopulmonary disorders. They usually work under the direction of a physician, and are wholly responsible for all respiratory care, therapeutic treatments as well as diagnostic procedures.
Respiratory therapists have also to oversee the work of respiratory therapy technicians. They are the part of the team that includes physician and other healthcare workers in charge of caring for patients, especially those on life-support in the intensive care units. Respiratory therapists have to be alert, skilful and knowledgeable enough to undertake the complex respiratory therapy that is needed for their patients.
Respiratory therapists are involved in the evaluation and treatment of different types of patients, such as premature babies with under-developed lungs and respiratory tracts or senior citizens with lung diseases, patients with breathing problems such as patients with chronic asthma or emphysema, patients needing emergency care due to heart attacks, strokes, vehicular and other accidents, drowning, or shock.
The minimum educational qualification required for a respiratory therapist’s job is an associate degree. However, only a bachelor’s or master’s degree could guarantee job advancement. Respiratory therapists need a licence for practicing in most states.
It has been projected that the job opportunities for respiratory therapists are quite good with hospitals absorbing the most number. There were about 107,000 respiratory therapists in 2008 and about 80 per cent of them were employed in hospitals. With an aging population that may need more cardiopulmonary care, the numbers of therapists could only increase. Respiratory therapists mostly work in the departments of respiratory care, anaesthesiology, pulmonary medicine, intensive care and neo-natal units in the hospitals. Other job openings include: offices of physicians or other health practitioners, consumer goods rental firms that supply respiratory equipment for home use, nursing care facilities and home health-care services.
On an average, the annual earnings of respiratory therapists in 2008 were about $52,200, ranging from $37,920 to $69,800. In 2009, the median earnings rose to $53,950 for those employed in the hospitals.
The employment opportunities and benefits are very attractive. However, the job of a respiratory therapist is not for those looking for a 9 to 5 job. The job involves working in shifts that could be as long as twelve hours in some hospitals. Even those on the eight hour shifts usually find it difficult to just go home at the end of their job hours as their duties and responsibilities involve emergency cases that are quite common in hospitals. Other than their routines and in-patients, the respiratory therapists have also to deal with emergency cases who are constantly getting admitted. Consequently, the job of a respiratory therapist is a challenging one, full of interruptions and emergencies that must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
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