Where Do Respiratory Therapists Work?

A Closer Look at the World of Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists play a crucial role in health care by assisting patients with respiratory issues, ranging from chronic conditions like asthma and COPD to acute illnesses such as pneumonia and respiratory distress. Their expertise in managing and treating breathing problems is vital for improving patient outcomes. But where do respiratory therapists work? Let’s explore the diverse areas where these professionals are employed.

Where Do Respiratory Therapists Work?


Hospitals are the most common workplace for respiratory therapists. Within the hospital setting, respiratory therapists can be found in various departments:

  • Intensive Care Units (ICUs): Respiratory therapists in ICUs are responsible for managing patients on ventilators, assisting with intubations, and closely monitoring patients with severe respiratory issues.
  • General Medical and Surgical Units: In these units, respiratory therapists assist patients with less severe respiratory conditions, such as post-operative care or pneumonia. They perform breathing treatments, assess lung function, and educate patients on managing their respiratory health.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs): Respiratory therapists in NICUs specialize in caring for premature infants with underdeveloped lungs. They help infants breathe by providing oxygen and providing other treatments.
  • Emergency Departments: Respiratory therapists are often the first responders in the emergency department, where they assess and treat patients with acute respiratory distress. They may administer life-saving interventions like intubation and provide emergency respiratory care.

Long-Term Care Facilities

Respiratory therapists are also employed in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. In these settings, they assist patients with chronic respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and help manage ventilator-dependent patients requiring ongoing care.

In-Home Care

Home care agencies employ respiratory therapists to provide care to patients in their own homes. This allows patients with chronic respiratory conditions to receive treatment and support in a familiar environment. Respiratory therapists working in in-home care educate patients and their families on managing respiratory equipment and medications, monitor patients’ progress, and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Centers

Pulmonary rehabilitation centers are specialized facilities that focus on improving the respiratory health of individuals with chronic lung diseases. Respiratory therapists in these centers provide patients with personalized exercise programs, breathing techniques, and education to enhance their quality of life.

Sleep Clinics

Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can have a significant impact on respiratory health. Respiratory therapists in sleep clinics conduct sleep studies, diagnose sleep disorders, and provide therapies like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to help patients breathe better during sleep.

Home Ventilation Services

Some respiratory therapists work for home ventilation services, assisting patients who require mechanical ventilation at home. They set up and maintain ventilators, educate patients and their caregivers on ventilator use, and provide ongoing support to ensure the safe and effective use of this life-saving equipment.

Becoming a Respiratory Therapist

To become a respiratory therapist, you must earn a high school diploma or GED and then earn at least an associate degree in respiratory therapy. Some respiratory therapists choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy or a related field. A bachelor’s degree can provide additional opportunities for career advancement and specialization. Excelsior University’s Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences program covers the scope of responsibilities related to a spectrum of health care careers, and teaches you how to succeed as an employee in treatment centers, public health agencies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other medical service or nonclinical health organizations. It’s a perfect choice if you’re building a career in respiratory therapy.

After completing your education, you’ll need to obtain a state license to practice as a respiratory therapist. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include passing the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) exams administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

Whether in hospitals, long-term care facilities, home care, pulmonary rehabilitation centers, sleep clinics, or home ventilation services, respiratory therapists play an essential role in managing respiratory conditions, improving patient outcomes, and enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with breathing difficulties.