Respiratory Therapist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Respiratory Therapists Career Video



Assesses, treats, and cares for patients with breathing disorders. Assumes primary responsibility for all respiratory care modalities, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians. Initiates and conducts therapeutic procedures; maintains patient records; and selects, assembles, checks, and operates equipment.

This career is part of the Health Science cluster Therapeutic Services pathway.


A person in this career:

  • Provides emergency care, such as artificial respiration, external cardiac massage, or assistance with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Monitors patient's physiological responses to therapy, such as vital signs, arterial blood gases, or blood chemistry changes, and consults with physician if adverse reactions occur.
  • Sets up and operates devices such as mechanical ventilators, therapeutic gas administration apparatus, environmental control systems, or aerosol generators, following specified parameters of treatment.
  • Works as part of a team of physicians, nurses, or other healthcare professionals to manage patient care by assisting with medical procedures or related duties.
  • Maintains charts that contain patients' pertinent identification and therapy information.
  • Reads prescription, measures arterial blood gases, and reviews patient information to assess patient condition.
  • Relays blood analysis results to a physician.
  • Inspects, cleans, tests, and maintains respiratory therapy equipment to ensure equipment is functioning safely and efficiently, ordering repairs when necessary.
  • Explains treatment procedures to patients to gain cooperation and allay fears.
  • Makes emergency visits to resolve equipment problems.

Insider Info

Dig into the details and check out what people in this job have to say about their work.



Working Conditions and Physical Demands

People who do this job report that:

  • You would often handle loads up to 20 lbs., sometimes up to 50 lbs. You might do a lot of lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling.
  • Work in this occupation involves use of protective items such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hearing protection, a hard hat, or personal flotation devices
  • Exposure to pollutants, gases, dust, fumes, odors, poor ventilation, etc.
  • Requires getting into awkward positions
  • Exposed to disease and infections more than once a month through work such as patient care, laboratory work, and sanitation control
  • Work in this occupation involves using your hands to hold, control, and feel objects more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation requires being inside most of the time
  • Exposed to radiation more than once a month
  • Work in this occupation involves use of special protective items such as a breathing apparatus, safety harness, full protection suit, or radiation protection
  • Work in this occupation involves standing more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves walking or running more than one-third of the time

Working in this career involves (physical activities):

  • Seeing clearly at a distance
  • Seeing clearly up close
  • Speaking clearly enough to be able to be understood by others
  • Identifying and understanding the speech of another person

Work Hours and Travel

  • Weekend work

Specialty and Similar Careers

Careers that are more detailed or close to this career:

  • Sleep Lab Technician -- Assists in sleep studies to help determine sleep-related problems, such as daytime sleepiness.