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Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema.
Respiratory therapists typically need an associate degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees. These are offered by colleges and universities, vocational–technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Programs combine coursework with clinical components that allow students to gain supervised, practical experience in treating patients.
You’ll need to be able to listen to patients attentively and accurately record what they say in various medical charts. You should be able to clearly communicate with health care professionals, and be able to think critically to ensure patients get the help they need. High school students interested in applying to respiratory therapy programs should take courses in health, biology, math, chemistry and physics.
You’ll be likely to have mastered skills related to interviewing and examining patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders and performing diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity.
By now you’ll typically be performing more advanced duties, including consulting with physicians to develop patient treatment plans; administering chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications; monitoring and recording patients’ progress; and teaching patients how to take medications and use common equipment, such as ventilators.
After ten years, you may expect to be in the higher end of the salary range and have advanced to a management position. You may also choose to pursue further education such as a bachelor's degree.