Starting your career
Choosing subjects at school
To become a respiratory physiologist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:
- Human Biology
A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, taken in S5 or S6, could give you valuable work experience.
If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.
College and university
Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.
Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.
To become a respiratory physiologist, you must complete a recognised degree programme. In Scotland, there are several ways you can enter the profession.
Trainee respiratory physiologist positions will usually be advertised on the NHS show website. Trainees without a relevant degree will be employed by the hospital and enrolled on the Glasgow Caledonian University BSc Clinical Physiology (Hons) degree programme (PTP). Training consists of in house training within the department and 2 days per week at university for 4 years in total.
Trainee applicants who do have a relevant degree can be trained in house and put through the Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP) exams so that they can gain equivalence to the PTP programme.
On graduation, respiratory physiologists are expected to be registered with the Academy of Healthcare Science (AHCS).
For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.
As a respiratory physiologist, you will work with patients who have a variety of issues, such as:
- shortness of breath
- airway problems
- shortage of sleep
- blood oxygenation problems
- chest wall issues
You will work with patients by performing tests. Communication skills are important as you will need to encourage the patient to perform different breathing manoeuvres as part of the test procedure. These may be done while they are resting or during exercise using a variety of skills, techniques and equipment.
You will report on your test results and the results will help doctors make a diagnosis. You may also assess how the patient will respond to treatment. You’ll teach patients how to use devices for treatment, including inhalers, home nebulisers and CPAP machines.
Respiratory disorders include:
- respiratory muscle disease
- pulmonary vascular disorders
- obstructive sleep apnoea
You might also help patients cope with long-term treatment and care. This could include administering oxygen, ventilation or their medication.
What you’ll do
Your main tasks include:
- setting up and calibrating equipment ready for use
- performing quality control procedures to make sure equipment is measuring accurately
- investigating a range of problems including breathing difficulties, abnormal chest x-rays or sleep disorders
- carrying out procedures such as pulmonary function tests, exercise testing and bronchial challenge testing
- performing special sweat tests to diagnose cystic fibrosis
- interpreting data from tests and reporting on results from these to medical staff
- helping patients with long term treatments
You will also be working with extremely expensive equipment that must be handled with care.
You’ll need these skills:
- caring for people
- collaborating with people
- leadership skills
- working in a team
In addition, you will need good communication skills and a sympathetic approach when working with patients of all ages and abilities.
Who you’ll work with
You could work with:
- specialist nurses
- physiologists from other disciplines
You could work in:
- outpatient clinics
- respiratory physiology department
To work as a respiratory physiologist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:
Did you know?
Although most respiratory physiologists work within the NHS, other opportunities do exist within her Majesty’s Forces, university research, government departments and the private sector.
Learning and development
Once a registered respiratory physiologist, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.
Staff can access various leadership courses run through NHS Education for Scotland (NES), such as Foundation in Leadership course. There are also courses for staff interested in training others. These include:
The ARTP run several courses covering more specialist investigations, such as respiratory muscle assessments and cardiopulmonary exercise tests.
Experienced respiratory physiologists can apply for the Equivalence programme through the AHCS to be a registered clinical scientist. Successful completion will help with career progression.
With training and experience, you could move into a supervisory or management role. If you become head of the department, you would be responsible for a team of staff and for managing a budget.
There are also openings in research and teaching.
Some respiratory physiologists might go on to focus on specialist areas, such as:
- sleep physiology
- pre-operative cardiopulmonary exercise
For staff working within sleep physiology, there are additional qualifications to be completed, such as:
- Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) Certificate
- European Sleep and Respiratory Society (ESRS) examination in Sleep Medicine