What is a Respiratory Care Practitioner?

A respiratory care practitioner is a health specialist who diagnoses and treats people with heart and lung problems.

These healthcare specialists may work with a doctor or nurse practitioner to provide proper airway management to patients with difficulty breathing.

They may also administer drugs or gasses that include oxygen, sedatives, asthmatic gasses, anesthesia medications, and other medications and gasses.

These medications help improve/stabilize the airway and lung functioning of the patient to ensure they’re breathing and recovering correctly.

As a result, respiratory care practitioners operate under many different health conditions.

It includes patients suffering from trauma, individuals treated in intensive care, pediatric care, neonatal care, sleep disorders, cystic fibrosis,  and asthma.

Conditions Treated by Respiratory Care Practitioners:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cardiac failure
  • COPD
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Sleep disorders

What Do Respiratory Care Practitioners Do?

Respiratory care practitioners have numerous responsibilities they perform daily.

For instance, these specialists routinely perform health assessments and monitor their patient’s breathing and respiratory conditions.

They also diagnose respiratory problems, develop treatment plans and administer medications and oxygen therapy.

A respiratory care practitioner may repeatedly monitor their patients during a typical day to ensure they receive adequate oxygen and support.

In addition, they’ll utilize ventilators and breathing masks, manage various respiratory equipment and work alongside registered nurses, medical doctors, and nurse practitioners.

Because these experts have advanced training, they can provide a higher level of care than respiratory therapists.

For instance, respiratory care practitioners can order and interpret diagnostic tests and perform advanced exams.

They can also evaluate the health of pre-surgical patients and develop plans to minimize risks or complications during surgical operations.

Conversely, respiratory therapists cannot perform these duties, prescribe medications, or act as primary care providers due to their limited scope of practice.

Work Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Educate patients and families about their respiratory condition
  • Regularly observe patients’ respiratory health
  • Utilize pulse oximetry and HR monitoring to detect irregularities
  • Operate various respiratory equipment
  • Diagnose respiratory problems
  • Administer medications
  • Deliver oxygen therapy 
  • Develop treatment plans

How To Become A Respiratory Care Practitioner

Respiratory care practitioners receive advanced post-graduate education, allowing them to provide the broadest scope of care within their profession.

To become a respiratory therapist, you must complete an associate’s degree in respiratory care or a bachelor of health science in respiratory care.

They must also pass the credentialing examinations and obtain a state license.

It requires 2 – 4 years of education in a respiratory program before earning a degree/license to work in the field.

However, those interested in becoming respiratory care practitioners must complete their bachelor’s degrees.

After obtaining your licensure, you may want to spend several years working and developing your expertise as a respiratory therapist.

Many respiratory therapists work in the field for numerous years to understand the ins and outs of their profession before going back to school to become a practitioner.

Once you’ve developed enough experience, the next step is to obtain post-graduate medical school education.

Firstly, students must pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to gain acceptance into the program.

They must then complete four years of medical school, pass their licensure, and complete a post-graduate externship to work as respiratory care practitioners/pulmonologists.

How to Become a Respiratory Care Practitioner

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree
  • Pass the MCAT test
  • Complete four years of medical school
  • Pass the state licensure
  • Complete post-graduate externship

Where Do Respiratory Care Practitioners Work?

Respiratory care practitioners work in various settings, including research centers, intensive care units, life support units, emergency rooms, and onboard aircraft (see flight nurse).

They also work in schools or other educational settings, teaching students about respiratory practice and giving in-depth information on respiratory problems.

Overall, these healthcare experts operate in any medical setting requiring professional support for patients with respiratory issues.

Occupational Specializations

Respiratory care practitioners specialize in heart, cardiac, and lung functioning and are a great asset to medical units with patients with breathing problems.

These experts help stabilize patients with breathing and provide therapy to help them recover from their respiratory ailments.

Some respiratory care practitioners choose to advance their education and focus on a particular field of respiratory management.

For instance, they may specialize in asthma, cystic fibrosis, cardiovascular surgery, neonatal care, sleep disorders, or pulmonary research.

They may also choose less familiar but equally essential careers focusing on pulmonary/respiratory health issues.

Respiratory Care Practitioner Specializations

  • Asthma Specialist
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cardiovascular surgery
  • Intensive care specialist
  • Neonatal & pediatric intensive care
  • Sleep disorder specialist
  • Surface & air transport specialist
  • Pulmonary research and science

And several other areas related to respiratory research and treatment.

Respiratory Care Practitioner vs. Respiratory Therapist

There are numerous differences between respiratory care practitioners/pulmonologists and respiratory therapists.

Firstly, respiratory care practitioners receive significantly more education and must complete medical school to work in their profession.

It requires eight years of schooling or more to earn licensure and practice as a respiratory care practitioner.

As a result, they can provide more extensive care and expertise to patients with respiratory/pulmonary issues.

They can also diagnose medication conditions, prescribe medications, and provide primary care.

On the other hand, respiratory therapists receive two to four years of education to earn their license and provide medical care.

Respiratory therapists can administer medications (not prescribe), monitor respiratory health (not diagnose), and provide medical care under a medical doctor or practitioner’s supervision.

Besides, respiratory care practitioners have the broadest scope of practice in their profession.

Their advanced education allows them to work in many distinct disciplines and provide the most extensive medical care within their training scope.

They can even open clinics and act as primary care providers in full-practice states.

Becoming a respiratory care practitioner/pulmonologist isn’t for everyone.

The path to this occupation is time-consuming, complex, and expensive.

Many respiratory therapists earn good pay and enjoy their profession. 

Nevertheless, those who become respiratory care practitioners/pulmonologists have unique opportunities to make an incredible income and help those who need specialized respiratory care.

They can work alongside other medical specialists to ensure patients receive all the necessary care to recover from their ailments and live their best lives.