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What does a Respiratory Technician do?

By Amy M. Armstrong
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A respiratory technician is an entry-level medical professional who helps patients experiencing difficulty breathing learn to use various equipment and techniques to aid in clearer and more efficient breathing. The technician works under the direction of a respiratory therapist or a respiratory physician, and may be guided in his or her work by following specific procedures prescribed by a cardiopulmonary doctor. People in this position are allowed to assist with testing such as measuring a patient's lung capacity to diagnose respiratory ailments. They are also qualified to administer oxygen and various aerosol medications.

One of the most important aspects of the job performed by a respiratory technician is patient education. This may include the benefits of quitting smoking, information on preventing further respiratory disease, and the process for recovery from the patient's current ailment. This type of technician may be found working in almost any medical setting, although they are commonly found in emergency rooms, neonatal or pediatric intensive care units, and surgical units.

Other duties of a respiratory technician may include keeping accurate records of a patient's therapy and progress, setting breathing equipment to appropriate levels to control the flow of oxygen, and preparing various respiratory-oriented medical devices for use. Some of the tools used by a respiratory techs include a blood gas analyzer, oxygen tents, oxygen masks, sputum collectors, suction kits, and nebulizers.

One typical task performed by a respiratory technician is to have a patient blow into what is called a peak flow meter, which measures the patient's breathing ability. He or she may also teach patients proper breathing techniques through various breathing exercises. This is done frequently when a patient is recovering from surgery, but can also be a part of a patient's routine care if he or she suffers from breathing disorders such as asthma.

Respiratory technicians may also work in clinics that specialize in diagnosing sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. In this type of clinic setting, he or she monitors testing equipment and the patient's breathing during the testing in order to provide sufficient data for diagnosis.

In the United States and Canada, an associate's degree from a post-secondary school is required to become a respiratory technician. Training programs are often available in hospitals, community colleges, vocational schools, and universities. Licensing to work in this field is required in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii, and in Canada, a national test is administered by each province for licensing purposes. European nations have similar standards, but vary from country to country.

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Discussion Comments
By Monika — On Jun 06, 2012

@sunnySkys - That's a good point. But I think you should thoroughly check out any academic program you're thinking about entering into. I was in a program at my local community college for medical assisting and it turned out that the certification the program prepared students for wasn't popular in my area!

That being said, I would think twice about even working as a respiratory technician. One of my friends used to do this job, and she was exposed to a few infectious diseases while she was at work.

I know this is a risk for all healthcare workers, but to me the respiratory technician salary just doesn't seem worth the risk!

By sunnySkys — On Jun 05, 2012

@starrynight - It's unfortunate that you had to go to the emergency room, but that's great that the respiratory technician was able to tell you something useful.

Anyway, I've actually seen a few advertisements for respiratory technician school on television recently. Apparently it's one of the programs offered by those for-profit technical schools that seem to be everywhere these days.

I really think if you want to do something like this, you should check your local community college first. Usually community colleges are both better and cheaper than for-profit places!

By starrynight — On Jun 05, 2012

I have asthma, and I had to go to the emergency room for an asthma attack not too long ago. When I was there, a respiratory technician came to see me.

As the article said, learning how to educate patient is part of respiratory therapist technician training and that's exactly what this technician did! He technician took the time to educate me about a new way for me to take my medication.

I use an inhaler as needed, and I was just administering the medicine directly from the inhaler. However, the technician gave me a little device that you attach to the inhaler and use to inhale the medicine. Apparently you get more of the medicine that way.

I would never have known about that if I didn't see that respiratory technician!

By KoiwiGal — On Jun 04, 2012

@pastanaga - Well, I mean if they've got to the point where they need that kind of help then they might be more willing to listen. They probably won't be listening to the respiratory therapist technician until they've already damaged their lungs and it's getting difficult to breathe and do all the things in life that they want to do.

I don't think it would be just a lecture. I imagine it would be ongoing support, more like a sponsor at AA. You'd have them coming in to give them tests and monitor their health and you could give them pep talks at the same time.

Actually what I would find difficult is the people who have had damage from secondhand smoking. My mother worked in a bar for ten years when she was younger and she's having to be on an inhaler now. She jokes that she would have had less problems if she'd been smoking, because at least then she'd be using a filter.

By pastanaga — On Jun 04, 2012

@bythewell - Actually, I think that might be easier than dealing with the stubbornness of some people. I mean, if you are a respiratory technician, you aren't going to be dealing with panicky patients by yourself very often. You aren't one of the bigger players in the hospital, you're basically just an assistant.

But, if you are working as one of those guys who has to tell people they need to stop smoking, I wouldn't envy your position. I used to be a smoker and we have become more and more desensitized as the years go on. Now you get horrible pictures on cigarette boxes, you get terrible ads on TV showing how you are harming everyone around you, you have random strangers glaring at you for daring to light up.

Anyone who is still smoking in the face of all of that is not going to look kindly on a respiratory therapy technician who tries to tell them they need to give up smoking. I know lot of people want to give up, they just don't think they can. And I can imagine them treating someone who tries to challenge that pretty badly.

By bythewell — On Jun 03, 2012

Something to keep in mind if you're thinking about looking into respiratory technician jobs, is that they are often dealing with people who are in a panic. That might not seem like a big deal, but it can be very distressful to someone who doesn't have the serenity of mind to handle it.

If you aren't able to breathe, or even just can't breathe properly, you are liable to freak out. And the people around you, your friends and family, won't be much better. It's a scary thing. In fact, sometimes when someone thinks they can't breathe, what's actually happening is that they are having a panic attack.

The health care professionals who have to deal with the breathing problems also have to deal with the fear and if you aren't sure you'll be able to do that on a daily basis you might want to try a different career path.

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