The Role of a Respiratory Therapist

The Role of a Respiratory Therapist | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Whether you suffer from an acute or chronic respiratory condition, you could benefit from seeing a Respiratory Therapist – also known as an RT. Respiratory Therapists work in a wide range of settings, including acute-care hospitals and emergency rooms, intensive care units (ICU) – including pediatric ICUs, as well as pulmonary diagnostic laboratories. Outside of these settings, RTs also work in rehabilitation clinics and in home-care settings, doctors offices, nursing facilities, sleep disorder clinics, and they also counsel patients and their families on things like disease prevention, smoking cessation, as well as assist and teach in the use of breathing devices. RTs work with patients of all ages and genders, and care for individuals with mild to advanced respiratory conditions, such as obstructive pulmonary disease – also known as COPD.

Along with having extensive knowledge and training in the cardiopulmonary system, a Respiratory Therapist will also have in-depth knowledge of the different devices that are used to administer respiratory care treatments, which includes caring for patients who are on ventilators or use artificial airway devices.

In addition to everything mentioned above, a Respiratory Therapist must be able to:

• Assess vital signs
• Manage life support systems
• Manage other mechanical ventilation systems
• Analyze patient blood samples to determine oxygen levels
• Assess patient lung capacity
• Analyze chest x-rays
• Analyze sputum specimens
• Perform patient examinations
• Perform stress tests
• Perform cardiopulmonary system studies
• Perform rehabilitative activities

Respiratory Therapists also work very closely alongside medical teams and their patients, which includes:

• Consulting with different healthcare professionals
• Recommending different types of (or changes to) treatment/therapy
• Promoting different health programs/activities
• Helping in disease prevention and management
• Patient and family education
• Other clinical decision-making

The list of responsibilities for a Respiratory Therapist is comprehensive, to say the least.

As a Respiratory Therapist, one must be compassionate and able to provide emotional support to patients and their families. This may include supporting patients who are possibly experiencing life-threatening diseases. In addition, they must also have critical thinking skills and have the ability to act in emergency situations as well as provide accurate assessments so that the patient can receive the most accurate treatment possible. Communication skills are also key.

For more information on the different roles that a Respiratory Therapist plays, visit the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists website at Also, don’t forget that October 21st to 27th is Respiratory Therapists Week. RT Week shines the light on the hard work and dedication of Respiratory Therapists across Canada, and you’re invited to share your own stories on social media by using the hashtag #RTWeek2018.