Respiratory therapy

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Respiratory Therapy is an allied health field involved in the assessment and treatment of breathing disorders including chronic lung problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the respiratory components of acute multisystemic conditions such as heart attacks and stroke. Respiratory Therapists (RT), also known as Respiratory Care Practitioners (RCP) are specialists in airway management, mechanical ventilation, and acid-base balance.

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Work environment and duties

Respiratory Therapists are commonly found in intensive-care units, emergency rooms, critical care transport teams and operating room environments, as well as other areas of a hospital setting[1]. Respiratory Therapists treat virtually every patient population, and often the most critically ill patients in the hospital. They may work in sleep diagnostic facilities, cardiac catheterization labs, cardiac stress testing labs, and pulmonary function testing labs. Respiratory Therapists are also a critical part of the code team and perform CPR. Particularly, establishing a patent airway. The Respiratory Therapist's duties include delivery of oxygen via all types of oxygen delivery devices, administration of aerosolized drugs, Endotracheal Intubation (emergent and elective) suctioning, management of life support, weaning of ventilation or life support, insertion of arterial lines, management of tracheostomies, drawing and interpretation of arterial blood gas samples. Advanced skills include intravenous, chest tube and central line insertions as well as performing broncoscopy procedures. Some Respiratory Therapists go on to work as cardiovascular perfusionists or anesthesia assistants.

History of Respiratory Therapy

In the 1940s in Chicago, Illinois, a group of oxygen-tank technicians began meeting with doctors concerned with lung disease. This group named itself the Inhalational Therapy Association ("ITA") in 1946. They gradually put together a series of classes for people administering medical gases to patients. In December, 1950, 31 members of the Association were issued certificates for attending 16 lectures. This was the first certification of "Inhalation Therapists." (Burton, pp. 5–6) It was an on-the-job training system for so-called "oxygen jockies". They had little formal education, but did have a desire to do their jobs better and help patients in the process.

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