Critical care pulmonologists are qualified to provide life-saving care for patients suffering from respiratory disorders that may be life-threatening - these doctors may also assist in emergency rooms and ICUs.

Watch an Overview of Pulmonary Critical Care

About Pulmonary Critical Care

Pulmonary critical care is a specialized field of emergency medicine that treats patients suffering from injuries and diseases of the respiratory, or pulmonary, system, which includes the lungs, trachea, diaphragm and related structures. Physicians that practice within this specialty are known as critical care pulmonologists, and are typically employed in intensive care units (ICUs) within hospitals, but may also be present in pulmonary clinics. Critical care pulmonologists are trained to stabilize patients suffering from pulmonary conditions that are affecting the ability to breathe. If respiratory complications are left untreated, a host of other serious medical problems may result.

Critical care pulmonologists work to provide emergency care, working alongside other critical care physicians and intensivists to perform resuscitations and other life-saving procedures. These physicians are often present when patients are suffering from multi-system failure and other life threatening situations. Critical care pulmonologists are trained to provide care for pulmonary diseases and disorders such as respiratory failure, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and chronic bronchitis, among many other conditions affecting the respiratory system.

Because the pulmonary system affects all of the other systems of the body, critical care pulmonologists may also be present during major surgeries and operations, ensuring the respiratory health of the patient. These physicians are also consulted when other disorders have the potential to severely impact the functions of a patient’s pulmonary system.

Pulmonary Critical Care Education & Training

The training to become a critical care pulmonologist, or pulmonologist in the intensive care unit (ICU), requires completion of an undergraduate and medical degree before completing both a residency and fellowship. After graduating from medical school with an MD or DO degree, the physician must complete approximately three years of residency training in internal medicine. During this residency, physicians are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases found in adults. This training provides the general medical knowledge necessary to complete fellowship training and prepare for the treatment of patients in critical condition in the ICU.

Critical care pulmonologists must complete a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine, which usually lasts three years. As a whole, the fellowship training builds upon the physician's previous training in internal medicine and provides advanced training in the treatment of severe pulmonary diseases and multi-system organ failure. The physician will complete at least 18 months of clinical training - usually comprised of 6 months in critical care, 6 months in pulmonary care, and 6 months in combined training. Following fellowship training, the physician has the requisite training and experience to treat those suffering from critical pulmonary conditions. Many critical care pulmonologists seek board certification from the American Board of Surgery in surgical critical care, among other appropriate certifications.