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How to become a respiratory physiologist

To become a respiratory physiologist, you can apply for trainee opportunities on our recruitment website. Another route is to complete an undergraduate degree at university.

What is a respiratory physiologist?

Respiratory physiologists diagnose and treat patients with lung disease and breathing difficulties, including asthma and cystic fibrosis. Patients may be referred from other departments, including cardiology, thoracic surgery, or clinical oncology, so their fitness for surgery or treatment can be assessed.

Starting your career as a respiratory physiologist

Choosing subjects at school

If you’re interested in a career as a respiratory physiology practitioner, useful school subjects include:

  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Biology
  • Maths
  • Physics

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

There are different education and training pathways to becoming a respiratory physiologist.  Whichever route you choose, you must complete an undergraduate degree programme. 

Clinical physiology undergraduate training programme

A widely recognised route is to complete an undergraduate-level training programme.

As a trainee respiratory physiologist, you’ll be employed by an NHSScotland Health Board while you complete an undergraduate honours degree programme at SCQF level 10.

You’ll also receive training within the department to provide you with the skills, knowledge, and experience you’ll need to become a respiratory physiologist. When you complete training, you can register as a healthcare science practitioner with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

Other work-based training programmes

Some health boards offer alternative work-based training programmes if you already have an undergraduate honours degree in a related science subject at SCQF level 10.

Search for undergraduate science degree programmes on My World of Work.

As a trainee, you’ll complete a 2-year practical and theoretical training programme. You can then register as a healthcare science practitioner with the AHCS.  

You can apply for all training opportunities on our recruitment website.

Academy for Healthcare Science

The Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) maintains voluntary registers for healthcare science professions not covered by statutory registration and regulation. These registers are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA).

When you qualify as a cardiac clinical physiologist, you can register with the AHCS as a healthcare science practitioner.

Find out more about the Academy for Healthcare Science.

Get to know the role

As a respiratory physiology practitioner, you’ll carry out diagnostic tests to identify and treat lung disease and breathing problems. Respiratory disorders include:

  • asthma
  • fibrosis
  • emphysema
  • respiratory muscle disease
  • pulmonary vascular disorders
  • obstructive sleep apnoea

Communication skills are essential as you must coach and encourage patients to use different breathing techniques during testing. These tests may be done while the patient is resting or during exercise, using various skills, techniques, and equipment.

You’ll produce reports to help other healthcare professionals make a diagnosis or show how well a patient is responding to treatment.


Your main tasks could include:

  • Set up and calibrate equipment ready for use.
  • Carry out quality control procedures to make sure equipment is measuring accurately.
  • Investigate a range of problems, including breathing difficulties, abnormal chest X-rays or sleep disorders.
  • Carry out procedures such as peak flow tests, spirometry, respiratory muscle strength, lung volume measurement, and bronchial challenge tests.
  • Interpret data from tests and report on results to other healthcare professionals.
  • Teach patients how to use devices for treatment, including inhalers, home nebulisers and CPAP machines.
  • Help patients with long-term treatment needs.

You’ll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • collaborating
  • critical thinking
  • curiosity
  • leading
  • sense-making


You’ll work with:

  • respiratory physiologists
  • assistant practitioners in physiological sciences
  • cardiac physiologists
  • physiotherapists
  • nurses
  • doctors

As a respiratory physiologist, you could work in:

  • outpatient clinics
  • hospital wards

Learning and development

Once you’ve become a registered healthcare science practitioner, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.

Career progression

With training and experience, you could move into a specialist, supervisory, or management role, such as a respiratory physiology service manager.

Clinical scientist equivalence recognition

Respiratory physiologists can apply to become clinical scientists to progress in their careers.

If you already have significant professional NHS experience in respiratory physiology or have completed a training programme that does not directly lead to registration as a clinical scientist, you can apply for equivalence recognition.

It is a route you can take to demonstrate that you already have the skills, knowledge, and experience to become a clinical scientist in respiratory physiology.

You’ll submit a portfolio of work to the AHCS or the Association of Clinical Scientists for assessment and attend an interview. If successful, you can register with the Health and Care Professions Council as a clinical scientist.

Find out more about clinical scientist training and equivalence recognition on the NHS Education for Scotland Healthcare Science website.

Professional bodies

Once you become a qualified respiratory physiologist, you can register as a healthcare science practitioner with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

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