What is a Respiratory Therapist?

For most people, breathing is as easy and natural as blinking. But for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, breathing is a struggle. They might be accident victims, premature babies with immature lungs, heart attack and stroke patients, or people who live with asthma and emphysema. When it comes to their care, a respiratory therapist will likely play a vital role on the healthcare team.

Respiratory therapists are skilled healthcare professionals with specialized medical expertise who work as part of the healthcare team to evaluate, treat and maintain cardiopulmonary (heart & lung) function.

Their duties include:

  • Maintaining an open airway for trauma, intensive care, and surgery patients
  • Assisting in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and support
  • Providing life support for patients who can't breathe on their own
  • Assisting in high risk births
  • Stabilizing high risk patients being moved by air or ground ambulance
  • Assisting anaesthesiologists in the operating room
  • Administering inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication and oxygen
  • Conducting tests to measure lung function
  • Teaching people to manage their asthma or to quit smoking

Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals. You'll find them in neonatal nurseries, operating rooms, intensive care units, general wards, and emergency departments.

Respiratory therapists also:

  • Educate the public and patients on disease management including asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, COPD, both in home and via clinics
  • Provide respiratory care to adults and children in their homes
  • Advance the practice of Respiratory Therapy by doing research and creating clinical practice guidelines
  • Administer and provide care in cardiac diagnostic clinics, pulmonary function clinics and sleep disorder labs
  • Fill managerial and administration positions
  • Work in numerous private industries such as medical sales, service, pharmaceutical sales and clinical support.

They need good judgment, excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to maintain composure in critical medical situations.

Text copied with permission from the CSRT web site