Respiratory Care is a healthcare specialty that offers a set of unique challenges in prevention, treatment, management, and rehabilitation of people with lung problems. Respiratory Care involves a wide variety of life saving, life supporting situations, working side by side with physicians, nurses, and others on the healthcare team, and treating patients ranging in age from newborns to senior citizens.

The work of respiratory care practitioners, involves the administration of treatments using sophisticated medical equipment to patients with lung disorders such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, and bronchitis. The respiratory care practitioner also works as a member of the critical care team, in laboratories, in rehabilitation, and in home care. Excellent judgment, assessment, and communications skills are essential for the respiratory care practitioner.

Problem solving and creative thinking are also essential skills for respiratory care professionals. The curriculum is designed to develop critical thinking and analytical skills including collection and organization of data as well as the ability to develop logical actions based on data analysis.

All RTs help people breathe easier.

They're some of the most tech savvy employees in the job market, and their patients are their top priority. They might work with anesthesiologists to monitor patients' breathing during surgery or help diagnose sleep disorders like apnea. Sometimes they help people kick the tobacco habit, work one-on-one with patients in home health care environments or treat asthma sufferers. Some RTs are "first responders" who provide emergency care to people with lung injuries from fires or other disasters.

A day in the life of an RT might include:

  • Diagnosing lung and breathing disorders and recommending treatment methods.
  • Analyzing breath, tissue and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases.
  • Managing therapy to help patients recover lung function.
  • Monitoring and maintaining mechanical ventilation and artificial airway devices for patients who can't breathe normally on their own.
  • Conducting smoking cessation classes for their patients and their communities.

Roughly 115,000 health care workers in the United States are respiratory therapists. The demand is growing fast and will keep growing for a long time, so if you decide to become an RT, you'll insulate yourself from a lot of the downsizing your liberal arts and business major friends may have ahead of them.