Respiratory Therapist Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Respiratory Therapist, or Registered Respiratory Therapist, is responsible for monitoring and treating patients with temporary or chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, pneumonia, bronchitis or emphysema. Their duties include interviewing patients and completing diagnostic tests to determine their respiratory conditions, communicating with Physicians and Nurses to develop patient treatment plans and administering respiratory treatments to patients based on their conditions.

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Respiratory Therapist duties and responsibilities

Respiratory Therapists are generally responsible for the following duties:

  • Perform chest examinations on a range of patients from babies through to the elderly
  • Consult with doctors and other healthcare staff to develop and modify patient treatment plans
  • Provide detailed therapy, requiring significant independent judgment, like when caring for patients in intensive care
  • Perform physical examination and diagnostic tests measuring lung capacity and blood acidity and alkalinity
  • Treat patients using oxygen or oxygen mixtures, aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy
  • Connect patients who can’t breathe to a ventilator
  • Educate patients on how to use equipment and medication
  • Regularly check on patients and equipment

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What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

Respiratory Therapists typically work for a variety of medical settings, including hospitals, sleep disorder clinics, respiratory clinics and other healthcare facilities to help care for patients with respiratory conditions. They work closely with Physicians, Nurses and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive quality care. Their job is to administer medications and respiratory treatments to help treat or cure respiratory illnesses. They may also be responsible for helping patients learn more about respiratory conditions, their causes and how to care for themselves at home.

Respiratory Therapist skills and qualifications

A great Respiratory Therapist needs certain key skills, including the following:

  • A Respiratory Therapist needs problem-solving skills to recommend and administer treatment based on their evaluation of a patient’s symptoms.
  • Respiratory Therapists need compassion to give emotional support to patients.
  • Respiratory Therapists need to understand physiology, anatomy and other sciences for their job. 
  • Interpersonal skills are required for a Respiratory Therapist to effectively communicate with patients, families, nurses, doctors or other medical staff. Good communication is vital to work well with others and in a team setting.
  • A Respiratory Therapist needs emotional stability to provide a safe environment for patients.

Respiratory Therapist salary expectations

A Respiratory Therapist makes an average of $35.07 per hour. Pay rate may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location. 

Respiratory Therapist education and training requirements

A Respiratory Therapist must have a degree in respiratory care. They also need to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist. All states besides Alaska require a Respiratory Therapist to be licensed. A candidate must first have an associate degree to qualify for licensure. Additionally, a current basic life support and/or CPR certificate are necessary.

Respiratory Therapist experience requirements

Most positions require emergency care, intensive care and respiratory care experience. They also require experience with respiratory equipment. The number of years of experience required depends on the advertised position.

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Frequently asked questions about Respiratory Therapists


What is the difference between a Respiratory Therapist and a Respiratory Care Practitioner?

The difference between a Respiratory Therapist and a Respiratory Care Practitioner is their education, seniority level and scope of job responsibilities. For example, to become a Respiratory Therapist, candidates need to earn an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. This training qualifies them to diagnose and treat patients with less severe cases of respiratory illnesses like acute asthma. 

In contrast, Respiratory Care Practitioners, also called Pulmonologists, need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, followed by the completion of a residency and a fellowship. Respiratory Care Practitioners are licensed Physicians because they attend medical school. Their extensive medical training also means they typically work with patients who have severe and chronic respiratory conditions that are potentially life-threatening like lung disease.


What are the daily duties of a Respiratory Therapist?

On a typical day, a Respiratory Therapist starts by reviewing their patient assignments for their shift. They also review their patients’ information, including current vitals, completed treatments and symptoms. Throughout the day, Respiratory Therapists visit with their patients and ask about how they feel with current treatments. They test their patients’ lung capacities, check the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in a patient’s blood and perform other tests as necessary. Respiratory Therapists also teach patients and their families on how to administer medication and perform respiratory tests at home.


What makes a good Respiratory Therapist?

A good Respiratory Therapist has compassion for others and a personable nature. When Respiratory Therapists use these qualities in combination with one another, they help patients feel comfortable and well cared for. They value continued education, and always look for ways to enhance their knowledge of respiratory treatments, respiratory conditions and healthcare laws.

Further, a good Respiratory Therapist has an investigative mindset that motivates them to run different diagnostic tests to determine a patient’s condition. This is important in obtaining a proper diagnosis so a patient can begin treatments. A good Respiratory Therapist also has excellent verbal communication. Their ability to speak with patients and their families allows patients and their loved ones to understand the nature of their condition and how to administer care at home.


Who does a Respiratory Therapist report to?

A Respiratory Therapist usually report to a Physician to relay information about a patient’s health and vital signs. Respiratory Therapists may also report to the Clinical Manager at the healthcare facility they work to order additional equipment or ask questions about facility policies.

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