November 2, 2005
A Q&A session with John Bailey, a respiratory therapist, who works at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, CA. John has been in the field for 2 1/2 years.

Q: Describe your average daily routine. What types of tasks are you expected to complete as part of your job?

A: My job mostly consists of aiding patients who are in any form of respiratory distress or who have any degree of respiratory difficulty. This includes patients with asthma, bronchitis or any other respiratory disease. My typical day consists of administering medication to patients to help dilate airways so they can breathe easier. When I’m in the intensive care unit I am working with patients who are critically ill and sometimes need to be on ventilators. When these patients are on a ventilator the Respiratory Therapist (RT) is continuously monitoring lung volumes and pressure. RT’s also aid doctors with bronchoscopies. Bronchoscopies are procedures that involve the use of a fiber optic scope. The scope is introduced into the airway of the patient usually through the nose and passed down the trachea into the lungs. While down there, the doctor can diagnose and sometimes treat pulmonary disorders.


Q: What do you like the most about being a respiratory therapist?

A: I enjoy the technical aspects of my job. I like being in the intensive care unit where I work with ventilators that are used to monitor and manipulate lung volumes and pressures. I also like to aid doctors with the bronchoscopies where I use specialized instruments such as forceps and brushes to help diagnose the patient’s condition.


Q: What do you dislike, if anything, about being a respiratory therapist?

A: I don’t like it when patients I’m working with come close to dying. It can also be very stressful dealing with difficult family members. Difficult family members can sometimes prevent me from doing my job effectively.


Q: What is your work environment like?

A: The work environment can be quite unpredictable. There are times when it’s slow. There are also times when it is very busy and stressful. For the most part it is usually steady and there is always work to do. Things at a hospital can change in a matter of seconds so it is always important to be prepared for chaos.


Q: What is your work schedule like?

A: Most respiratory therapists in the area where I am work 12 hour shifts three days a week. That is considered full time. My days start at 6 am and end at 6:30 pm. There is a half hour overlap between shifts for giving report on the patients. Vacation time is on an accrued basis. I usually accrue seven hours a pay period. Those hours go into a bank called PTO (personal time off) and then I can use them when I decide to take a vacation.


Q: Where did you get the training necessary for your job?

A: People can obtain a Respiratory Therapist license by first completing a program that is usually two years. There are also 18 month programs as well. Those programs tend to cost a little more but it is six months less time and t hey don’t normally require prerequisites. In my area (San Diego, CA) there is Grossmont college. It is a junior college. It requires about one to two years of prerequisites which include human anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Once the prerequisites are completed the RT program itself is two years. The school I attended was California College. It is a private school. It requires only a high school diploma or GED. It is an 18 month program. There is an entry level exam that must be passed which should be obtainable for the average person. The program itself is full time, five days a week, about five hours a day. When clinical rotations start you are required to work the 12 hour shifts three days a week. It is important to study and not let the program get ahead of you. For those 18 months all you will think about is respiratory care.


Q: Would you recommend your job as a respiratory therapist to another person?

A: I would recommend this job to other people as long as you don’t get grossed out easily. There are things about our job that does require dealing with bodily secretions. It is interesting, challenging, and sometimes fun. Being an RT is a technical job which I find exciting and mentally stimulating. There is always something new to learn about. It is a stable profession as well and a lot of security comes with working in health care.


Q: What is the next step in your career?

A: I think respiratory care is a great field to work in. I have learned quite a bit. It is a great stepping stone to use as you move on to other jobs. You can make a decent living from it but you’re not going to become rich. I myself plan on going back to school eventually to advance my education. But I will use respiratory therapy as a tool to further my knowledge.

View a list of schools in California offering respiratory therapist programs.