Mechanical ventilation is one of the most confusing and often overcomplicated topics that medical professionals—such as nurses, paramedics, physicians and respiratory therapists—encounter in their education. It is very common for seasoned medical practitioners working in critical care environments to still be intimidated with how to approach ventilation and how to understand all settings and modes. Much of the available learning materials overcomplicate concepts that can be explained simply—including unnecessary calculations and advanced concepts—because they are written for respiratory therapists and respiratory physicians who are expected to hold advanced knowledge of the field. However, the reality is that ventilators are used every day by non-specialized health care workers, who lack training and resources that are appropriate to their needs. By stripping away unnecessary complexity and using common analogies, the basics of ventilation can be taught to everyone, and advanced settings and concepts can then be added once the general foundation is fully understood.

This open educational resource (OER) was written for a wide audience of health care professionals, including:

  • Nurses, who may encounter ventilators in critical care settings such as the emergency room, the Intensive Care Unit, or operating rooms.
  • Paramedics, who may transfer ventilated patients or encounter ventilators in their work environment.
  • Anyone who practices flight medicine.
  • Student physicians and respiratory therapists prior to additional training and education.

Don’t see yourself on this list? This book can still be for you. Mechanical ventilation is a useful skill for all health care professionals who encounter ventilators in their scope of practice.

Topical Overview

This OER provides a foundation of mechanical ventilation concepts and basics. By the end, you will understand the basics of ventilation, settings, basic modes, how to initiate ventilator settings and when and why to make changes based on patient status. Topics include:

  • What ventilation is and how it affects the lungs.
  • Common ventilator modes and basic ventilator settings.
  • How to set up a ventilator based on patient demographics and their clinical presentation.
  • Blood gas interpretation and how to change the ventilator based on blood gas values.
  • Specific pathophysiologies and how they impact ventilator strategies and settings.
  • Common misconceptions and inappropriate ventilation strategies.

Additional Learning

Although this OER is open to anyone, some users may wish to deepen their learning experience. Additional exercises, application notes, case studies and live support from an experienced instructor are available to learners who enroll in the Mechanical Ventilation micro-credential course at Sault College. Students who successfully complete this online course will earn a micro-credential certification in Mechanical Ventilation. Please visit for more information or to register.

Author Biography

Melody Bishop (B.Sc.) is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and a Certified Clinical Anaesthesia Assistant (CCAA). She has worked in diverse areas of critical care medicine for over 13 years with specialty in intensive care units, emergency medicine and the operating room. For example, her love for complex medical challenges brought her to the flight medicine world, where she worked as an emergency first responder flying into remote communities, stabilizing and transporting patients to health care centres in Southern Canada. In her roles as a Clinical Educator and a college professor, she has been involved in teaching and educating a wide range of medical professionals over the last decade at the post-secondary, post-graduate and professional level—specializing in Critical Care RN ventilator education and paramedical mechanical ventilation training. Her mission as a teacher is to simplify the “scary” topic of ventilation and present it to all medical professionals in an easy to understand and approachable way.

Editing and Instructional Design

Editorial and instructional design services were completed by Amanda Baker Robinson. Amanda works as an instructional designer for colleges across Ontario, including Sault College, Humber College, Canadore College, and Cambrian College.


This open textbook was developed by Sault College, in partnership with Seven Generations Education Institute. Special thanks to Sault College Health Sciences department for their valuable contribution and support.


The development of this OER and course have been funded by the Province of Ontario and eCampusOntario (OOLC).

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For any questions or comments regarding this OER, or to report an error, please contact

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Basic Principles of Mechanical Ventilation Copyright © 2022 by Sault College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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