Respiratory therapy technician

A respiratory therapy technician


Respiratory therapy technicians assist doctors and surgeons in treating respiratory problems. These include chronic respiratory diseases, such as emphysema, sleep apnea, cardiac failure, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Patients include infants with undeveloped lungs to adult patients with lung disease. They may also give emergency aid for breathing problems, heart attacks, drowning, and shock.

Respiratory therapy technicians work in hospitals and medical facilities where they operate medical equipment to test patients’ respiratory conditions and aid in their treatment. They work closely with registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, and medical assistants. They also tend to breathing equipment and machines during surgery.

The duties of a respiratory therapy technician typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Evaluating patients and performing chest exams
  • Creating treatment plans for patients
  • Diagnosing lung disease and breathing disorders
  • Administering treatment plans and caring for patients
  • Educating patients about their conditions and how to use therapeutic equipment
  • Managing breathing equipment
  • Recording patients’ medical histories and documenting changes to treatment plans
  • Evaluating blood oxygen levels
  • Assisting other healthcare professionals in performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Performing procedures under the supervision of a therapist or physician
  • Measuring lung capacity to determine a patient’s condition
  • Initiating mechanical ventilation and maintaining life support

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to respiratory therapy technician:

oxygen therapy technician
respiratory care assistant
breathing technician
respiratory therapist
respiratory technician
respiratory care supervisor

Working conditions

Respiratory therapy technicians work in various hospital areas, including emergency rooms, critical care units, and neonatal intensive care units. They may stand for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients.

Some respiratory therapy technicians may work in home care. They teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems. During these visits, they may inspect and clean equipment, check the home for environmental hazards, and ensure patients know how to use their medications. Therapists also make emergency home visits when necessary.

Injuries and Illnesses

Like other healthcare workers, respiratory therapy technicians may be exposed to patients who have infectious diseases. They also may experience strains or sprains when lifting or turning patients. Because of this, they must take precautions to minimize their risk of illness or injury.

Work Schedules

Most respiratory therapy technicians work full-time. Because they may work in medical facilities that are always open, such as hospitals, they may have shifts that include nights, weekends, or holidays.

Minimum qualifications

While a two-year degree is usually all that’s required for a career as a respiratory therapy technician, a bachelor’s degree may be preferred by some employers. Additionally, some jurisdictions require a license to work in respiratory therapy. Usually, previous work experience in the field is not required for this entry-level position.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Respiratory therapy technician is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Respiratory therapy technician career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to respiratory therapy technician.

clinical perfusion scientist
dietetic technician
dental hygienist
physiotherapy assistant
doctors’ surgery assistant

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of respiratory therapy technician. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of respiratory therapy technician with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

specialist biomedical scientist
nuclear medicine radiographer
diagnostic radiographer
specialist pharmacist

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of respiratory therapy technician.

  • Hygiene in a health care setting: The procedures related to maintaining a hygienic environment within a health care setting such as hospitals and clinics. It can range from hand washing to cleaning and disinfection of medical equipment used and infection control methods.
  • Health care legislation: The patients` rights and responsibilities of health practitioners and the possible repercussions and prosecutions in relation to medical treatment negligence or malpractice.
  • Medical terminology: The meaning of medical terms and abbreviations, of medical prescriptions and various medical specialties and when to use it correctly.
  • Clinical perfusion: The health science related to the artificial pumping of blood and oxygen in a person’s body, also known as extra-corporeal circulation.
  • Human anatomy: The dynamic relationship of human structure and function and the muscosceletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, urinary, reproductive, integumentary and nervous systems; normal and altered anatomy and physiology throughout the human lifespan.
  • Respiratory medicine: Respiratory medicine is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Respiratory therapy: Treatment focused on the management of the airways in various medical conditions or situations such as emergency or trauma.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of respiratory therapy technician.

  • Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
  • Operate breathing equipment: Operate breathing equipment and machines to ensure the patient is administred oxygen during surgery.
  • Operate heart-lung machines: Utilise heart-lung machines to pump blood and oxygen through the patient’s body. Ensure patients are safe and correctly connected to the machine before surgery. Operate the heart-lung machine during surgery and monitor the patients vital functions. Disconnect the equipment after surgery.
  • Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
  • Comply with quality standards related to healthcare practice: Apply quality standards related to risk management, safety procedures, patients feedback, screening and medical devices in daily practice, as they are recognized by the national professional associations and authorities.
  • Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
  • Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
  • Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
  • Apply context specific clinical competences: Apply professional and evidence based assessment, goal setting, delivery of intervention and evaluation of clients, taking into account the developmental and contextual history of the clients, within one`s own scope of practice.
  • Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of respiratory therapy technician. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Emergency surgery: The characteristics and methods of a surgical intervention performed in emergency cases.
  • Surgery: The essential procedures in surgical practice such as the principle of safe surgery, the pathophysiology of wound healing, knot tying, tissue handling, retraction and any other instruments and procedures used in the operating room.
  • Rehabilitation of all organ systems: The principles of physical medicine and rehabilitation of all organ systems as related to physiotherapy.
  • Medical informatics: The processes and tools used for the analysis and dissemination of medical data through computerized systems.
  • Clinical imaging techniques: The techniques to evaluate image information for clinical manifestations and technical accuracy.
  • First aid: The emergency treatment given to a sick or injured person in the case of circulatory and/or respiratory failure, unconsciousness, wounds, bleeding, shock or poisoning.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of respiratory therapy technician. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
  • Provide pre-treatment information: Explain treatment options and possibilities, informing the patients in order to help them make well-balanced decisions.
  • Use e-health and mobile health technologies: Use mobile health technologies and e-health (online applications and services) in order to enhance the provided healthcare.
  • Interpret medical images: Analyse medical images in order to diagnose illnesses and injuries.
  • Manage healthcare users’ data: Keep accurate client records which also satisfy legal and professional standards and ethical obligations in order to facilitate client management, ensuring that all clients’ data (including verbal, written and electronic) are treated confidentially.
  • Promote health and safety: Promote the importance of a safe working environment. Coach and support staff to participate actively in the continuous development of a safe working environment.
  • Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.

ISCO group and title

3259 – Health associate professionals not elsewhere classified

  1. Respiratory therapy technician – ESCO
  2. Respiratory Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. How to Become a Respiratory Therapy Technician? |
  4. Featured image: By Rcp.basheer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Last updated on March 21, 2023

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