Essential Tools Every Aspiring Respiratory Therapist Should Master

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Respiratory therapy is a growing field, with high demand for new professionals. Respiratory Therapy has a wide range of intensity levels, you can find a job as challenging as you could want.

If you’re considering a career change or just entering the workforce, respiratory therapy is a great place to start your job search. In as little as 18 months you can be a registered respiratory therapist working in an exciting career field.

But what’s involved with being a respiratory therapist? With a wide range of medical contexts, respiratory therapists can encounter many different tasks in their day to day work. But there are certain tasks and tools that every respiratory therapist will use, whether they work in intensive care units, operating rooms, or asthma clinics.

Considering a career in respiratory therapy? Familiarize yourself with these essential tools and you will know exactly what to expect from your work as a respiratory therapist.

Tools of the Trade: What Every Certified Respiratory Therapist Needs

Whether you seek an exciting career as a respiratory therapist on a medevac team, or a job as a respiratory therapist in a physical therapy clinic, there are certain devices that are vital to the daily function of every respiratory therapist. Let’s look at a few.

A Good Stethoscope

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Of all the medical devices in use today, none is more ubiquitous, more iconic, than the stethoscope. It allows a medical professional to hear sounds in the heart, digestive tract, and, of course, the lungs.

With training you will quickly learn to recognize the different sounds created by different degrees and causes of lung function. It’s a simple tool, yet the stethoscope can give you an incredible amount of information on what is going on with your patient’s respiratory health.

Groundwork: Learning to Use a Stethoscope

A functioning stethoscope is easy to find on Amazon. Just be aware that your respiratory therapy classes may require you to purchase a certain brand. Platt college provides this to all students at no cost. Still, it may be worth spending the money on a stethoscope before your classes start, just so you can familiarize yourself with the tool and practice listening to the lungs of family, friends, and coworkers.

A Pulse Oxometer

If you’ve been to the emergency room lately you have probably been monitored with a pulse oxometer. These little devices clip onto a finger and use a red light to measure how much oxygen is in a patient’s bloodstream. A respiratory therapist job duties include pulse oxometers every day, so being familiar with their use is important in order to be able to become a respiratory therapist.

Groundwork: Different Ways of Using Pulse Oxometers

Since respiratory therapists work always includes the function of the lungs, it follows that they need to have a really good handle on the blood oxygen level of their patients. And while the pulse oxometer used on a patient undergoing surgery is different from one used on a patient in a sleep disorders clinic, in effect they both serve the same function.

How should exercise change the blood oxygen level of a patient? What does it mean if blood oxygen levels drop while the patient is asleep? What is a normal oxygen level, what is abnormally low, and is it possible for oxygen levels to go too high?

All these questions will be discussed in respiratory therapy programs, but if you like to be ahead of the rest of the class, start by reading some articles like this one to get a feel for how respiratory therapists use pulse oxometers to assess a patient’s status.

Breathing Trainer

A breathing trainer is, at its simplest, a tube with a ball in it. The patient blows air into the tube, pushing the ball upward; the higher the ball goes, the better the patient’s lung function.

Groundwork: Reasons for using a Breathing Trainer

In an acute emergency setting a breathing trainer may be fairly useless, but in the day to day work of a respiratory therapist they can help assess lung capacity and pulmonary function. While they are not necessarily of much clinical use, they can be of great worth in patient education, giving them a means of self assessment and gamifying the recovery process.

These devices aren’t particularly expensive, as they are simple and are typically given to patients to keep because of the risk of contamination with saliva. Still, familiarity with this tool can be helpful for any respiratory therapist.

Mechanical Ventilator: For When The Patient Can’t Breathe

Some professional respiratory therapists use mechanical ventilators every single day of their career, while others only have them around for emergencies; but every respiratory therapist needs to know how to use them effectively in case a patient experiences respiratory distress.

There are lots of different types of mechanical ventilators on the market, from simple hand operated pumps to push air into the lungs, to sophisticated medical devices that monitor the oxygen and CO2 levels of the patient’s breath and adjust their assistance accordingly. Respiratory therapists need to have a broad working knowledge of all kinds of ventilators.

Groundwork: When and How a Ventilator is Needed

No matter what breathing disorders your patients are suffering from, a ventilator can sometimes be a crucial lifesaving device. Knowing when to use one–and the limitations of the tool, which is not without possible side effects–is a big part of the job of a respiratory therapist.

The more research you do before you start your training as a respiratory therapist, the better of a foundation of knowledge you will have as you enter your classes, and the more likely you are to be able to absorb and retain what your teachers need to convey to you.

To begin with, look for articles about the different types of ventilators on the market. Then you can go in depth and find articles that discuss appropriate and inappropriate uses for each type. Respiratory therapists sometimes need to make split second life saving decisions about respiratory assistance, so learn all you can now.

Specialized Tools: Respiratory Therapy Equipment

Besides the tools that every respiratory therapist uses, there are other pieces of equipment that are used by different specialties within the field. A registered respiratory therapist (RRT) who works in a clinic will use different equipment than one who works in a sleep clinic, and neither will use the same equipment as that used by a respiratory therapist in an operating room setting. Respiratory care comes in many forms and familiarizing yourself with the equipment before hand will pay off when your classes start.

Tools of the Asthma Therapist

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If your hope is to work with asthma sufferers, there are certain tools that you can expect to use on a regular basis.


Inhalers are used to deliver medication to patients. It is intended to create a spray that is inhaled, putting a steroid directly in the patient’s airways so that the inflammation can be reduced as quickly as possible.

A respiratory therapist has to assess whether their patient needs an inhaler with a full mask that covers the nose and mouth, or a smaller inhaler that can be sprayed directly in the mouth.


A nebulizer creates a fine mist of asthma medication, easy to inhale. It is an even more effective delivery system than an inhaler. Knowing how and when one is needed is critical for any respiratory therapist who treats asthma patients.

Sleep Disorders: Respiratory Therapists Who Work in Sleep Clinics

Many sleep disorders center around the respiratory system. This is generally a very quiet and laid back work environment, if you aren’t looking for an exciting career that you would find in an emergency care department or neonatal intensive care units.

Mouth Appliances

Snoring is a common problem addressed in sleep clinics, so as a respiratory therapist it is good to be familiar with different mouth and nose appliances to help patients to stop snoring.

CPAP Machines

Sleep apnea is a very common disorder that becomes more common all the time. An aging population that struggles with extra weight is very susceptible to apnea, but it can afflict anyone at any age and weight.

A respiratory therapist in a sleep clinic will spend a lot of time fine tuning CPAP devices to meet their patient’s needs.

The Operating Room: Respiratory Therapists For Anesthesia

From emergency surgery to cancer treatments to plastic surgery, surgeons who operate on patient under anesthesia need respiratory therapists on their team. The respiratory therapist will keep careful tabs on the patient’s blood oxometry and rates of breathing before, during and after surgery, providing respiratory care until the patient is stable enough to breathe entirely on their own. Without respiratory therapists, most surgery would not be possible.


Mechanical ventilation is often essential when general anesthesia is used. anesthesia is a delicate process, different for every patient, and of course a patient who stops breathing is in grave danger.

Respiratory therapists have to know what ventilator is ideal for each patient and each surgery. They need to be aware of possible ventilator injuries and how to prevent them.

Tools that a respiratory therapist uses for hooking up a ventilator

Does the patient need a nasal canula, a mask, or intubation? These are important questions that respiratory therapists need to answer many times a day in an operating room setting.

  • A nasal canula can be used when a patient only needs supplemental oxygen, such as for a surgery that does not require general anesthesia. These are easy for the respiratory therapist to use.
  • A mask when attached to a ventilator may be all that a patient needs for respiratory care under general anesthesia. As long as it is fitted properly it will allow the ventilator to create the pressure difference needed to assist the lungs in respiration.
  • Intubation is used when a patient needs extra help in stabilizing their respiration. Intubation is potentially risky and a delicate process, but a good respiratory therapist can do it with a minimum of discomfort and when the situation requires it, it can save a patient’s life.

Becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist: A Promising Field of Study

Between chronic lung diseases, an aging population, an obesity epidemic and diseases like the flu and coronavirus, the demand for respiratory therapists just keeps increasing throughout the medical community. Respiratory therapy is an essential medical service upon which other professions, like doctors, surgeons and nurses, rely upon heavily in order to have their patients be safe and comfortable.

If you want to be an essential part of a care team, have a rewarding career with excellent benefits, and all without having to invest a decade of your life in school and training, you owe it to yourself to look into a career as a respiratory therapist.