Job Title: Certified Respiratory Therapist
Type of Company: I am employed in a community hospital with an emergency department, an intensive care unit and a medical floor. There are also a mental health floor and a surgical day care.
Education: Certification, Respiratory Therapy, Newbury Junior College (Holliston, MA)
Previous Experience: I have worked in respiratory therapy for 25 years, beginning right out of college.
Job Tasks: I work twelve-hour shifts, almost always at night, and my duties consist of giving people who have lung diseases breathing treatments. I am also in on traumas where I might need to help in CPR. I am the "pulmonary" part of Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. I use a bag and mask to put air in people's lungs if they have stopped breathing. The doctor or paramedic will then place a tube in a patient's lungs while I hook them up to a ventilator -- provided their heart is pumping on its own at that point. I also perform an arterial blood gas screening to check how the lungs are working. The doctor can use the results of this blood test to determine the settings of the ventilator and whether those need to be changed. On other occasions, I am called on to place patients on another machine that assists regular breathing in people who have fluid in their lungs. This technique, known as "Continuous Positive Airway Pressure," is sometimes enough to forestall the need for intubation.
Another of my responsibilities is checking on patients who are on oxygen. I exchange their empty oxygen tanks for full ones. Over half of my patients are (or were) smokers and the older they get, the more frequently we see them. Many eventually die from smoking-related diseases.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is helping to get people well enough to go home. I like helping people.
The worst part is watching patients come in who've been in accidents, especially car accidents. I have never been comfortable with this part of my job. It's messy and very sad at times.
1. Make sure that you have investigated all the medical jobs before you decide which career to pursue. I have enjoyed my job for quite a few years, but you can get burned out.
2. Compare your talents and aspirations with the various job descriptions offered in the medical fields. I chose Respiratory Therapy because I am myself an asthmatic and felt I could relate to others who were having difficulty breathing.
Additional Thoughts: In order to be in Respiratory Therapy, you should have a strong stomach, since part of the job is encouraging patients to cough and expectorate. If they are unable to do this, you may need to run a catheter up their nose and into their lungs so you can get at the sputum they failed to cough up. This requires a strong stomach. Ask yourself too if you are a people person, since you will need to work closely with other medical staff as well as patients and their families. It helps if you can relate to others in a positive way. There are many personalities to contend with in the medical field.
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