Respiratory Therapy Technicians

There are just over 16,000 respiratory therapy technicians in the United States. According to job growth statistics, over the next ten years the field is likely to shrink by 1%; this is below the national average for all jobs, which predicts growth of approximately 9-11%. For the most part, respiratory jobs are being given to respiratory therapists who have more education and training, rather than to technicians.

Respiratory therapy technicians assist respiratory therapists or physicians by carrying out their instructions for a patient’s respiratory care. Patients with cardiopulmonary or other breathing disorders might work with a respiratory therapist or a respiratory therapy technician at different points in time.

Respiratory therapy technicians are trained to use oxygen equipment, breathing treatments, and ventilators to help patients with breathing diseases or disorders such as asthma, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis. Respiratory therapy technicians study the patient’s medical history and review the doctor or respiratory therapist’s explicit instructions. They gather information such as medical histories for patients’ files. They must document all aspects of patient therapy, including diagnoses, treatments, and amounts of oxygen given and how it was delivered. Some technicians complete insurance forms or other forms on patients’ behalves. Technicians control the stream of mists, gases, oxygen, or aerosols being administered by setting the medical equipment to the amount prescribed by the physician or therapist. Patient reaction to treatment must also be documented; technicians will modify treatments if necessary according to standards established by the therapist or physician supervisor. Respiratory therapist technicians keep equipment such as therapeutic gas administration devices, ventilators, environmental control systems, EKG equipment and aerosol generators sterilized and in good working order. If the patient has a negative reaction to a particular treatment, the technician must inform the supervisor. The technician may assist in patient diagnosis by executing a range of tests to determine the degree of breathing dysfunction.

Respiratory therapist technicians work in medical offices, hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities as well as in patients’ homes to deliver intermittent positive pressure breathing, incentive spirometer, and ultrasonic nebulizer treatments. They also teach patients, family members and other caregivers to properly use the equipment.

Most technicians work 40 hours per week. Those working in hospitals or medical offices find the work environment to be well-lit, climate controlled, clean and well- organized. Among the job risks respiratory therapy technicians face are possible explosions or other dangers connected to pressurized gases; this type of medical equipment must be tested often to ensure danger is minimized. Another risk is that technicians may work with patients who are suffering from serious infectious diseases. Technicians must follow safety rules and regulations at all times and wear masks or other protective clothing for the safety of patients as well as themselves. Characteristics employers look for are good eye-hand coordination, manual dexterity, mechanical aptitude, the ability to work under pressure, and careful attention to detail.

Most employers require respiratory therapy technicians to have an associate’s degree from a two-year program in an accredited school. Technicians will receive on-the-job training from the physician or respiratory therapist under whom they are working, as well.

Most respiratory therapy technicians advance by returning to school to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. This enables them to re-enter the field as a respiratory therapist. There are few jobs for technicians; the job outlook indicators show that fewer and fewer positions will be available over the next ten years. This is because more employers prefer to work with respiratory therapists, who have more education. Anyone new to the field should expect considerable competition.

The median annual salary for respiratory therapy technicians is around $43,000.