Respiratory Therapists are allied health-care workers who, under a physician's medical direction and supervision, plan and implement a variety of therapeutic and diagnostic procedures for patients suffering from a wide range of heart and lung disorders. They are also responsible for the purchase, operation and general maintenance of complex equipment Respiratory Therapists combine technical skills with- scientific information for the benefit of the patients they serve.

Respiratory Therapists generally work in larger hospitals -- those having 50 or more beds. Their responsibilities are twofold:

  • to use a wide range of respiratory techniques and equipment to treat patients with heart and lung problems, and
  • to maintain the equipment

Respiratory Therapists work with the entire medical team in all areas of the hospital. They:

  • administer medical gases such as oxygen and oxygen-air mixtures
  • administer humidified air and medications given in aerosol form to manage respiratory related abnormalities
  • assist with cardio-pulmonary resuscitation
  • monitor vital signs
  • keep records of therapy given
  • advise physicians on changes in patients conditions

They may be found on the wards helping a patient with chronic asthma; working in the maintenance section of the respiratory-therapy department; in the intensive care unit providing mechanical ventilatory support to the victim of motor-vehicle accident, a stroke or a heart attack, or a patient under going abdominal, thoracic or open heart surgery; in the newborn nursery assisting premature infants in their quest to breathe; in the pulmonary-function laboratory performing various breathing tests to provide diagnostic information; analyzing blood for carbon-dioxide and oxygen levels; or even in an ambulance that is carrying a high risk patient.

Respiratory Therapists are diversified health care professionals in contact with the adult, the child and the infant, the aged and the newborn, the acutely ill and the chronically sick.

Respiratory Therapists are often the first health professionals summoned to the emergency department. A person who does not breathe for three to five minutes will probably not survive without brain damage, not survive without brain damage, and one deprived of oxygen for more than nine minutes will die.

In order to function clinically at the patient's bedside and also to handle routine maintenance within a respiratory-therapy department, the therapist must have precise knowledge of the design, function, and maintenance of the equipment and procedures in current use. Further, therapists must be able to deal effectively and sympathetically with patients as well as with physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals.

Like other professionals in medicine, graduate Therapists have an inherent responsibility to keep abreast of their field by reading current literature and attending professional meetings. Their major goal must be the well-being of the patient and this requires them to strive to provide the best services possible by keeping abreast of new developments.

Opportunities in this field in Maine are expected to grow at an above average rate. This is a relatively new field and most opportunities are still found in large urban centres. Respiratory Therapists may advance to supervisory or teaching positions.