Respiratory therapists are professionals who diagnose, treat and support patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary issues. They work in private or public health care environments such as hospitals, nursing care facilities or clinics. Obtaining an associate degree is the most common route to becoming a respiratory therapist. Upon completion of the degree, students must complete a board examination and obtain certification before they are allowed to practice. The respiratory therapy curriculum includes a number of science courses, as well as those covering patient care and contemporary issues in respiratory therapy.

General Education Courses

Most degree programs require completion of certain nonscience general education courses before students can graduate. Generally, these courses consist of mathematics, English and the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology. According to the Muskegon Community College website, respiratory therapy students take intermediate algebra, English composition, general psychology and history in the seven-semester program. Moraine Park Technical College requires that students complete courses in computer literacy, speech, psychology and sociology. Students in the respiratory therapy program at Foothill College also take a one-credit course titled Management, Resume & National Board Examination, which provides postgraduate assistance.

Science Courses

Respiratory therapists must have a thorough background in the sciences before moving on to specific respiratory coursework. Students will begin the degree program by taking introductory coursework in biology and chemistry, in addition to courses in anatomy and physiology and physics. According to the Muskegon Community College website, students then take courses more specific to health care and the respiratory system, such as allied health microbiology, pharmacology, pulmonary pathophysiology, cardiovascular and renal physiology and pulmonary diagnostics.

Patient Care Courses

Future respiratory therapists also take courses to understand the basics of respiratory care, prescribed therapy procedures and patient response. Courses at Muskegon Community College include basic patient care skill, mechanical ventilation and biomedical ethics and health care environment. Additional courses at Moraine Park Technical College include respiratory life support, respiratory disease and respiratory neonatal and pediatric care. These courses both prepare students for and supplement the required clinical rotations.

Clinical Rotations

A series of hands-on clinical rotations are required in addition to the in-class lectures. In these courses, students learn and carry out respiratory care procedures, as well as clinical decision-making and patient evaluation, treatment and education. These supervised clinical rounds take place in various environments, such as clinics and emergency rooms, and provide essential training for future careers. Once a student completes these clinical rotations and in-class coursework, he or she graduates from the program and may take state certification exams.