What You Learn in Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory Therapy often is completely misunderstood as a career choice. So says John Hillsamer, and he should know. Hillsamer, BA, RRT, is Program Director of the Respiratory Therapy program at Concorde's campus in Orlando, Fla. And he said when he first was learning about the field, it was largely misrepresented. "When I first discovered the field in 1979, it was presented to me as a cardiopulmonary technician," he said. "And, I thought to myself, that sounds like heart and lungs to me. Yuck! Little did I know what a fascinating career that respiratory therapy would be for me."

Respiratory Therapy: The study of lung function

What Hillsamer eventually learned was that Respiratory Therapy is the study of lung function. And, how well lungs function determines what disease process one might or might not have. "The lungs serve us faithfully from the time we are born, provided that we have all the components of healthy lungs," Hillsamer said. "I was fortunate enough to have worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for more than 25 years, and I was able to see the function and importance of lungs in the most immature of patients. These patients were less than one pound in weight in some instances. And these special patients had to be treated carefully, so as not to cause any further damage to their developing lungs. I learned about the importance of surfactant in these tiny little lungs."

Respiratory Therapy for older patients

Hillsamer said he also spent plenty of time working with older patients and saw how their lungs were affected by acute asthma. He focused on what he could do to treat those lungs and break the asthma cycle. "I also learned about lungs that were affected by pneumonia, abuse from smoking and occupational hazards, and how that can and does affect the lungs," he said. "I learned about what would be needed to restore blood to its proper pH and what kind of therapy would be beneficial to the recuperating lung."

Respiratory Therapy: A vital role

Respiratory Therapists play a vital role in the care and recovery of a majority of patients. They work hand-in-hand with physicians and nurses. They're counted on during all phases of a patient's recovery. They work code blues, manage ventilators and work in rehabilitation, making sure airways are clear and working properly. "Yes, Respiratory Therapy is a very fulfilling career that puts you smack dab in the middle of hospital care," Hillsamer said. "You will be depended on and counted on and relied upon. Respiratory Therapists are essential, not ancillary. They are key players in the recovery of a majority of patients."
respiratory therapy

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