People often ask me what a Respiratory Therapist is, so here you go. A respiratory therapist or “RT” provides many services to patients. The services may be outpatient which include performing pulmonary function testing to see how well ones lung function is. A Pulmonary function test is the only true way to diagnose COPD. RT’s also provide pulmonary rehabilitation services to help patients with lung diseases to help them be able to perform daily activities more easily through exercise training, education, smoking cessation, and breathing exercises. RT’s can also perform diagnostic sleep studies to help diagnose and treat sleep apnea.
In the inpatient setting RT’s have many roles and see patients in all areas of the hospital. RT’s provide bronchodilator therapy via aerosol treatments, provide mucous clearing adjuncts, and provide education and smoking cessation. We are also able to assess our patients and treat them with certain therapies according to their respiratory state. Arterial blood gases are a type of lab that respiratory draws. This is different from a normal blood draw due to the fact that we are drawing it from an artery and not a vein. An artery carries oxygenated blood and gives us insight to the patient’s respiratory and metabolic state.
Respiratory therapists treat patients of all ages ranging from newborn to end of life. RT’s also play a key role when it comes to life saving measures. We manage and run all ventilators while the patient requires support. RT’s can also perform intubations. Once ready patients can be “weaned” from the ventilator and the breathing tube removed to allow for a patient to breathe on their own. During births RT is on standby and attends all c-sections to help manage the baby if it is unable to maintain its own airway.
The job of the RT is often misunderstood and often underappreciated but continues to grow and make progress. As an RT it is wonderful to see how much progress a patient can make when you least expect it. Each day at work has something new and is never the same as the next but brings joy knowing you are part of a healthcare team that has one goal in mind, providing care to those in need.