Link to Kirkwood Community College

What kind of work does a respiratory therapist do?
Typical duties for a respiratory therapist include:

  • Assessing heart and lung function at bedside;
  • Performing diagnostic tests for heart and lung function;
  • Providing oxygen and other gas therapies;
  • Administering inhaled medications via aerosol treatments;
  • Delivering various positive-pressure breathing therapies;
  • Using techniques and treatments (e.g. suctioning secretions) to maintain an open airway;
  • Performing CPR;
  • Monitoring and maintaining patients on life-support systems, such as respirators;
  • Drawing arterial blood samples;
  • Teaching patients proper and efficient ways of breathing.

What skills or abilities are needed?
Respiratory therapists must be able to organize tasks and work independently and as part of a team; communicate effectively in verbal and written form; solve problems and make decisions independently; maintain patient confidentiality; and practice respiratory care as a patient advocate. Therapists must have manual dexterity; good eye-hand coordination; integrity and basic competence in science and math.

What else should I know about this career?
You may work evenings or nights when you first become a respiratory therapist. It is common to work some weekends and holidays. With flexible scheduling, you may work 12-hour shifts and get three to four days off each week. You will have exposure to patients with communicable diseases. By using standard precautions, you should have no greater risk of exposure to these diseases than does the general public.