Respiratory therapists provide critical care to patients in cardiopulmonary and breathing distress. Working in hospitals and home care, respiratory therapists perform diagnostic tests and treat patients with physiotherapy and medications to help improve breathing function. You can become a respiratory therapist by completing an associate degree program specializing in respiratory therapy at an accredited community college or technical school. Coursework will include liberal arts, math and science, respiratory and clinical classes that will prepare you to be a successful respiratory therapist.

Liberal Arts

Liberal arts classes will give you the well-rounded knowledge needed to succeed in the respiratory therapy program and to work with patients throughout your career. Colleges require you to successfully pass entry-level courses in algebra, English and biology before starting the respiratory therapy program. In addition, you will take courses in psychology, social sciences and communication while in the respiratory therapist program. These courses will prepare you to clearly articulate instructions and care for a patient’s physical and psychological needs.

Math and Science

Math and science courses provide the foundation for studies in health-related programs. Respiratory therapy programs will require you to take math courses in advanced algebra, statistics or technical mathematics. These courses will allow you to accurately complete calculations needed while performing tasks such as evaluating the findings of tests, preparing medications and setting equipment. Courses in anatomy and physiology, microbiology and chemistry provide you with the scientific background needed to understand the chemical and physical principles of respiratory therapy.

Respiratory Care

The key program components of a respiratory care program will prepare you for the day-to-day tasks of a respiratory therapist. Respiratory care courses will train you to perform therapeutic and diagnostic tasks such as cardiopulmonary assessments, bronchial therapies and mechanical ventilation procedures. In addition to respiratory courses, you will study cardiopulmonary anatomy and physiology, pharmacology and medical terminology. This set of coursework will provide you with the understanding of the cardiopulmonary system and the medications used in respiratory treatments such as asthma and advanced life support.

Clinical Practice

Clinical hours allow you to put your knowledge into practice under the guidance of licensed respiratory therapists. While completing clinical hours, you will conduct cardiopulmonary assessments on adults, children and infants. In addition, you will work in a variety of settings including operating rooms, sleep medicine clinics and pulmonary function testing areas honing your skills in critical thinking and professionalism. College programs require a significant amount of clinical practice requiring you to balance your college and work life carefully.

Special Considerations

Respiratory therapists must pass the entry-level board examination in order to become licensed in all states except Alaska. Passing the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam provides employers and patients with the assurance that you have the knowledge, skills and abilities required to be a respiratory therapist. It is also essential that you be sure to select a college accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) to ensure the program will prepare you for the exam and license requirements.

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