Respiratory technologists and clinical scientists

Respiratory technologists and clinical scientists perform lung function tests and study respiratory physiology and pathophysiology. They are concerned with the development, clinical application and monitoring of new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in respiratory medicine. Respiratory technologists perform investigations in patients at rest as well as during exercise, by measuring lung volumes, airflow, gas transport across the alveolar membrane and blood oxygenation. They are also responsible for the calibration, maintenance and quality control of equipment.

Respiratory technologists perform sleep studies and sometimes run therapy services for patients with asthma, COPD and fibrotic lung disorders. The sleep medicine field has seen significant growth in recent years due to the high prevalence of sleep breathing disorders and growing public awareness of these conditions. Sleep medicine is a multidisciplinary specialty, in which ARPs such as technologists, scientists and nurse specialists play a key role. Many technologists are directly involved in performing and scoring sleep studies (figure 1) according to established guidelines. Their role involves providing patient education and developing treatment plans based on patients’ needs. Good patient education and training is vital; the success of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment, for example, is directly related to patient education.

Respiratory technologists and clinical scientists participate in activities that help raise awareness about the causes and prevention of pulmonary diseases. They support the development and promotion of smoking cessation programmes, pulmonary function screening, air pollution monitoring, allergy warnings, and other public education programmes.

Training

It is difficult to accurately determine the training and education level of respiratory technologists and clinical scientists in Europe, due to a lack of data. The content and duration of their education differs greatly between countries, and consequently the harmonisation and standardisation of education and training is an ongoing challenge.

As part of its HERMES (Harmonised Education in Respiratory Medicine for European Specialists; hermes.ersnet.org) project, the European Respiratory Society (ERS) has set up a task force to establish a European spirometry certification programme, the European Spirometry Driving Licence. The task force aims to provide a platform that consolidates basic spirometry knowledge with more in-depth postgraduate education in respiratory physiology (figure 2). In time, this should lead to the development of a pan-European spirometry qualification, which standardises measurement quality and reliability throughout the continent. This goal is outlined in the European Respiratory Roadmap.

The professional field of respiratory technology and clinical science should aim to:

  • improve the supply of scientific and technology personnel so that an adequate number of professional staff is available to deliver a high-quality scientific service

  • strengthen and modernise education and training through use of the HERMES project framework

  • develop an infrastructure with an attractive career pathway, so that high-quality staff are recruited and retained

  • ensure the contribution of respiratory technologists and clinical scientists is fully recognised within the ERS

A thorough modernisation of education and training in this area is also required, in order to provide:

  • more interprofessional education and training

  • joint training in communication skills

  • common learning programmes that are based on core skills, to enable students to switch careers and training paths more easily

  • continuing professional development and lifelong learning

  • a learning environment that supports evidence-based practice

  • augmentation of existing professional education and training programmes, and regulatory standards

The creation of a curriculum for respiratory technologists and clinical scientists requires:

  • modular courses designed to enhance interprofessional learning

  • flexible delivery accessible to students from diverse backgrounds

  • a focus on competence, with skills training mapped to international standards

  • education that promotes problem identification, problem solving and critical thinking

As with other health professionals, the right balance between the development of practical skills and academic knowledge needs to be achieved. Vocational training must be undertaken predominantly within the hospital environment due to the need for access both to patients and sophisticated equipment.

See the entire Allied respiratory professionals Chapter