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Respiratory Therapist

What is a respiratory therapist?

A respiratory therapist (RT) is a specially trained healthcare provider. They help treat and restore function for people with airway and breathing problems. They assess and treat people with many conditions, including:

  • Low oxygen levels

  • Long-term (chronic) heart or lung problems that need breathing treatments and assistance. These include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

RTs help people understand their medical condition and how to cope with it. They also show them how to take medicines correctly. They may give people medicines through a nebulizer or an inhaler. They also help people to use equipment, such as:

  • Tracheostomy tube. This is a special type of breathing tube that is put in through the neck. It's for people unable to breathe through their mouth and nose.

  • Ventilator. This is a machine that breathes for people who can't breathe on their own due to certain conditions, such as spinal cord injuries.

RTs work in many rehab (rehabilitation) settings. These include those focused on:

  • The nervous system (neurological)

  • The heart (cardiac)

  • The lungs (pulmonary)

RTs also work in many healthcare settings, such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Inpatient rehab centers

  • Home healthcare

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Private practice

RTs may have either an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree in respiratory therapy. Many are either registered or certified in their specialty.

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