Respiratory therapists, clinical perfusionists and cardiopulmonary technologists (NOC 3214)

High demand occupation

About this job

Respiratory therapists, clinical perfusionists and cardiopulmonary technologists who are supervisors or instructors are included in this unit group.

See what a day in the life of this job is like—watch WorkBC’s Career Trek video about this occupation.

Source: WorkBC’s Career Trek

Respiratory therapists:

  • assist physicians in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with respiratory and cardiopulmonary disorders
  • perform cardiopulmonary technology duties, assisting physicians in the technical aspects of diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease
  • work in hospitals, medical clinics, health units, extended care facilities, public health centres and respiratory home-care companies

Clinical perfusionists (also known as cardiovascular perfusionists):

  • provide technical support to patients undergoing cardiac surgery and patients requiring cardio-respiratory support
  • are highly specialized practitioners who manage cardiopulmonary and other life support devices for patients undergoing cardiovascular surgery
  • work mainly in hospitals

Cardiopulmonary technologists:

  • assist physicians in the technical aspects of diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease
  • work mainly in hospitals

The cardio-pulmonary technologist profession is not formally recognized as a discipline in B.C., but is in other jurisdictions in Canada.

People in these occupations:

  • should have strong interpersonal skills in order to work well with staff and patients
  • should have good attention to detail
  • should have good computer and equipment skills
  • must also be able to follow instructions and work well under pressure
Common job titles
  • cardiopulmonary technology supervisor
  • CCP (certified clinical perfusionist)
  • practitioner, registered respiratory care
  • technician / technologist, cardiopulmonary
  • technician / technologist, extracorporal
  • technician / technologist, respiratory
  • cardiopulmonary technology supervisor
  • CCP (certified clinical perfusionist)
  • practitioner, registered respiratory care
  • registered respiratory therapist (RRT)
  • respiratory care practitioner
  • RT (respiratory therapist)

Duties

Respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists share some of the same duties, such as training students and participating in research, as described below.

Special duties

Respiratory therapists:

  • run diagnostic tests, such as arterial blood gas analysis and cardiopulmonary functions tests
  • operate and monitor respiratory equipment to give treatments such as oxygen, oxygen-air mixtures, humidified air or medications
  • operate, monitor, maintain and test a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic equipment
  • assess patients and perform or help with interventions, such as airway maintenance, line insertions, inductions and intubations
  • do artificial respiration and external cardiac massage and help transport high-risk patients
  • Supervise and train students and other respiratory therapists
  • may participate in home-care programs for chronic respiratory patients and provide patient and family education
  • participate in research related to cardiac and pulmonary disorders.
  • respiratory therapists in B.C. also perform cardiopulmonary duties, as described below under the description for cardiopulmonary technologists

Clinical perfusionists:

  • assemble, maintain and operate extracorporeal circulation equipment, intra-aortic balloon pumps and other heart assist devices to support or temporarily replace patients' cardiopulmonary functions during open-heart surgery
  • administer blood products, drugs and other substances through heart-lung machines and other devices as directed by cardiac surgeons and anaesthetists to maintain adequate flow of oxygenated blood to all organs of the body
  • monitor vital signs to support and maintain patients' physiological functions and metabolic needs during cardiopulmonary surgery
  • participate in routine maintenance, calibration and inspection of all perfusion related equipment
  • supervise and train student clinical perfusionists and other clinical perfusionists.

NOTE:  The cardiopulmonary technologist profession is not formally recognized as a discipline in B.C. since respiratory therapists perform these functions:

  • perform diagnostic tests in other Canadian jurisdictions such as pulmonary function and asthma stress tests, or help physicians with cardiac and cardiopulmonary stress tests and bronchoscopies
  • determine patients' blood characteristics such as activated clotting time and oxygen saturation, as well as operate, monitor, maintain, calibrate and test diagnostic and therapeutic equipment
  • monitor patients and advise the physician of any changes in a patient's condition
  • prepare medications and give inhaler and other treatments under the supervision of a cardiologist
  • provide information and care for patients during tests
  • help prepare the cardiac catheterization room, prepare specialized catheters and help cardiologists during catheterization
  • do analysis, programming and monitoring of implanted devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators during surgery
  • supervise and train students and other cardiopulmonary technologists
  • provide technical support for research

Work environment

Most workers in these occupations work a typical workweek. However, 8- to 12-hour shifts, usually on rotation, including weekends, evenings, nights and holidays can be common. In addition, workers may be on call for emergencies and be required to work long hours.

Respiratory therapists, clinical perfusionists and cardiopulmonary technologists generally work in health-care facilities. The work is physically demanding since these workers spend long periods standing and walking throughout hospitals. The work also involves a lot of bending and lifting.

Workers may also have to cope with the emotional aspects of working with the sick, injured and terminally ill, as well as patients' families.

These workers can be exposed to infectious disease so infection control and sterilization procedures are followed to reduce this risk.

Insights from industry

Job opportunities are expected to come from retirements and new job creation.

The growing demand for health-care services will increase work opportunities for these workers. In particular, hospitals and related health-care facilities are expected to experience growth that will result in new jobs.

An older population will see an increase in respiratory ailments and cardiopulmonary diseases, such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease, thereby increasing the need for health-care workers in this group. Advances in treatment for heart attacks, accidents and premature babies will also continue to increase demand for workers in these occupations.

Growth in the Health Care and Social Assistance industry will be somewhat offset by efforts to better run the medical system so costs do not get out of control. Cost management measures include reduced hospital stays, increased outpatient services, and prevention and wellness programs.

Advances in medical technologies, treatments and procedures mean that these workers must stay on top of new innovations to be effective in their jobs.

Industry sources report that there is currently a significant shortage of respiratory therapists, particularly in larger hospitals, and that the current supply of graduates cannot fill the vacancies. To meet their staffing needs, B.C. employers continue to look for respiratory therapists from other provinces and internationally.

The current supply of clinical perfusion graduates is also insufficient due to a lack of a clinical perfusionist programs in western Canada. A new perfusionist program is now available at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

Respiratory therapists may specialize in areas such as anesthesia, critical care, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary diagnostics and respiratory home care.

Experienced respiratory therapists, clinical perfusionists and cardiopulmonary technologists may advance to clinical specialist, supervisory positions or teaching.

Additional resources