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Understanding the Role of a Respiratory Therapist

Understanding the Role of a Respiratory Therapist

As a new pediatric nurse, I could remember cringing when I would look at my assignment from the upcoming shift and have a patient with RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus.  I would shake in my boots, because that meant a sick kiddo, who I would battle all shift trying to watch their breathing and do everything I could to make them comfortable and stable. However, I had a partner in battling this little virus that angered little airways, and the was my colleagues from Respiratory Therapy. Respiratory Therapists preform many skills in the hospital setting which include: 

  • Assessing patients, especially those with lung disease and recommending treatments
  • Listening to lung sounds, preforming vital signs, drawing blood from art lines to assess blood gases.
  • Administer respiratory medications such as nebulizers
  • Elicit and collect a sputum sample
  • Managing ventilators, and inserting breathing tubes
  • Participating in a code blue, by managing the airway

Respiratory Therapists attend between 2-year associate degree, or 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and pass a national exam to be licensed. Their education includes many clinical hands-on hours in the assessment and treatment of the respiratory system.

Nurses work collaboratively with Respiratory Therapists. At times, nurses may need to coordinate medication administration for pain management before the RT comes to provide chest physiotherapy to a patient. Constant communication and trust are needed within the team but especially amongst RN’s and RTs.

Finally, RTs are incredible educators. If you find yourself lost in blood gasses befriend an RT who somehow can describe it magically so that you understand. They will help you understand how to manage high flow oxygen, or vent settings. They will work with you when you need a second respiratory assessment, when you assess your patient as deteriorating and potentially needing more support. So, the next time you are tachypneic trying to tackle that patient with RSV, asthma, COPD or other lung disease, take a deep breath and page your Respiratory Therapist!

Learn more about being a Respiratory Therapist from our #LumifyFam Creator, Garry, RRT/RCP here!

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