A respiratory physiologist measures and monitors a patient's respiratory system and function. They help people who have breathing difficulties, chest pain, respiratory diseases and sleep problems using a variety of equipment, methods and tests. The most common lung and airways function test used is spirometry.
A qualified respiratory physiologist could work for hospitals and clinics, both in the private sector and public health, in research, in government departments and organisations. Some respiratory physiologists work for equipment manufacturers and suppliers.
Typical work activities for a respiratory physiologist include:
- using and maintaining respiratory equipment
- measuring lung function and volume
- monitoring breathing in sleep
- allergy testing
- monitoring the effects of exercise on breathing.
Respiratory physiologists can work in research and education, but most are dealing with patients with breathing difficulties, monitoring disorders such as asthma, emphysema, fibrosis and respiratory muscle disease. They help patients to understand and manage their conditions, working with specialist nurses and doctors, physiotherapists, and other healthcare staff. Respiratory physiologists have their own professional body, the Association of Respiratory Technology & Physiology (ARTP), which monitors standards of training and qualifications, runs courses and conferences, and publishes information on new practices and equipment.
A respiratory physiologist tends to work standard hours in a clinic – around 37.5 hours a week – though some respiratory physiologists work shifts and visit patients in their own homes and others work in research.
Respiratory physiology is evolving and advancing as new technical equipment is developed, allowing a greater range of testing and monitoring. New research and treatments are being developed which allow greater understanding of lung volumes, respiratory gas exchange, breathing during sleep and responses to exercise.
You'll find vacancies advertised on the ARTP website and its own professional journal ARTP Inspire as well as jobs platforms run by the NHS and healthcare trusts. Other jobs may be advertised in national and local newspapers.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for respiratory physiologists
- Excellent communication and good professional manner
- Good at working with teams and individuals
- An interest in science and technology
- Ability to analyse results
- Ability to deal with patients of all ages
- Emotional resilience.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of respiratory physiologists
- The National Health Service (NHS)
- Government departments
- Private hospitals and clinics
- Manufacturers of equipment
- Colleges and universities
- Specialist research units and charities.
Qualifications and training required
Students who want to become respiratory physiologists can take an accredited healthcare science (respiratory and sleep physiology) BSc degree at university, which combines workplace training with academic study. You may be accepted to study for a masters degree qualification in clinical science (cardiac, vascular, respiratory and sleep sciences), on the graduate entry NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) if you already have a relevant degree, such as physiology, pure or applied physics, engineering, biology or human biology. If you are an experienced registered clinical scientist, you can apply for higher specialist scientist training (HSST), to gain doctoral level qualifications.
BSc physiological sciences
Current BSc first degree courses in physiological sciences involve the following...
Typical first year units include human physiology, cell biology, biomolecules and microbiology plus clinical placements. Second year studies may include disease processes, the science of respiratory and sleep physiology and further specialist clinical training. Third year studies include work-based learning in a specialist unit dealing with the practice of respiratory and sleep physiology, plus a project – either laboratory-based research, or a dissertation.
Once qualified, respiratory physiologists can apply to be a member of the Association for Respiratory Technology & Physiology (ARTP) and join the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP).
Applying for a degree course in respiratory physiology
To apply for a typical BSc course, you will need 120 UCAS points from two or more science A levels or Scottish Highers, plus GCSEs (or equivalent) in sciences, mathematics, and English language. Other acceptable qualifications include: 122 UCAS points from Access to Higher Education Diploma in science, medicine, dentistry or pharmacy a BTEC Extended Diploma at Level 3 with 60 credits from relevant science units. Applicants are also interviewed. Other routes on to courses include science foundation years and accreditation for prior learning, qualification and experience. Some universities offer four-year masters level courses.