What is a respiratory and sleep physiologist?

Respiratory physiologists work directly with patients to deliver diagnostic tests of breathing and treatment for lung disease. They’re usually involved in exercise testing, sleep studies and delivery of ventilation to patients on the wards and at home. Working in partnership with doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, respiratory physiologists use a variety of equipment and techniques to measure and monitor patients’ respiratory function. Patients may be referred because of chest pains, abnormal chest x-rays, breathing difficulties, respiratory disease or sleep disorders.

The duties and responsibilities of a respiratory physiologist include working with computers linked to hi-tech respiratory equipment, as well as measurements made:

  • Spirometry and lung volumes
  • Respiratory gas exchange
  • Blood gases
  • Response to treatment
  • Breathing during sleep
  • Allergy testing
  • Physiological responses to exercise

The information obtained is used to assist in the diagnosis of disease, to identify treatment regimes, to measure the effects of treatment and to estimate likely risks during surgery.

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Where can respiratory and sleep physiologists work?

Respiratory and sleep physiologists can work in a variety of workplaces, including:

  • NHS hospitals
  • Private hospitals
  • Community hospitals
  • Private clinics
  • Mobile vans
  • Universities

What qualifications does a respiratory physiologist need?

To practise as a respiratory and sleep physiologist in the UK, you’ll need to have:

  • Excellent references, practical experience from university if a new graduate
  • ARTP accreditation is desirable for some roles
  • RCCP registration is desirable

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What is a respiratory physiologist’s salary?

  • Band 5: £24,214 to £31,112
  • Band 6: £30,401 to £37,267
  • Band 7: £37.570 to £43,772

Pay rates for locum respiratory and sleep physiologists

  • Band 5: £22-25+ per hour
  • Band 6: £26-30+ per hour
  • Band 7: £28-34+ per hour

Working as a locum physiologist can differ to a full-time role in the following ways:

  • 6-12+ month contracts available
  • Work weekends and evenings for enhanced rates
  • High expectations on a locum to come in and hit the ground running without a huge amount of training and/or supervision
  • Pick where you want to work and what area of physiology you want to work in
  • Gain experience using different computer systems and settings
  • Tend to avoid bureaucracy
  • Greater flexibility with hours
  • Paid per hour worked
  • Increased rate
  • 1 weeks’ notice if you wish is to try a different role
  • Weekly payments

How to become a respiratory physiologist

There are three routes into respiratory physiology, and you’ll need to do further study at university whichever one you take.

The first route is to apply for a BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science in physiological sciences, where you can specialise in respiratory and sleep physiology. Getting into a degree at university requires at least two A levels (including at least one science subject) or equivalent level 3 qualifications. However, entry requirements vary and so you must check the entry requirements of the universities you’d like to study at.

The second route is taking a healthcare science practitioner degree apprenticeship where you could specialise in respiratory physiology. These may be available in some parts of the country, and you’ll usually need the same level of GCSEs and A levels or equivalent qualifications.

The third route is to take a relevant degree in science and then apply for the NHS Scientist Training Programme specialising in respiratory and sleep physiology, which will train you to work as a clinical scientist.

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