How Can I Become a Respiratory Therapist?

Explore the career requirements for a respiratory therapist. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, licensing and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists care for people who have breathing problems. Breathing problems can arise from various health conditions, including asthma or emphysema, underdeveloped lungs (in the case of infants) or diminished lung capacity. Respiratory therapists examine patients, perform diagnostic tests and confer with physicians to develop a treatment regimen. They perform both manual and automated treatments, monitor a patient's progress and train patients and their families to use respiratory therapy equipment.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's or master's degree for advanced positions
Education Field of Study Respiratory care, respiratory therapy
Key Responsibilities Intake and examine patients; develop treatment plans, use respiratory care equipment; train patients to use equipment
Licensure/Certification Required All states except Alaska require licensing; most states require certification
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 12%*
Median Salary (2015) $57,790*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

You need at least an associate's degree in respiratory care or respiratory therapy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Look for schools accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). An associate's degree program may include courses in anatomy, physiology and chemistry. You may need a bachelor's or master's degree to qualify for management or supervisory positions. A bachelor's degree may include coursework in pathology, pharmacology and ventilation, as well as a clinical practicum.

How Can I Become Certified?

The National Board of Respiratory Care offers the entry-level certified respiratory therapist (CRT) exam and the advanced registered respiratory therapist (RRT) exam. At minimum, you must have completed an associate's degree from a CoARC program or from a CAAHEP accredited program to sit for the CRT exam. The CRT examination includes 160 multiple-choice questions covering clinical data, therapeutic procedures and equipment topics.

You must hold the CRT credential to sit for the RRT exam. You may sit for the exam within three years of graduation from an advanced respiratory care program. The RRT evaluation includes a clinical simulation and written exam. The written exam has 115 multiple-choice questions covering application and analysis of clinical data, recall and equipment and therapeutic procedure topics. The simulation portion of the evaluation includes ten relevant and realistic patient management situations.

How Can I Become Licensed?

According to the BLS, every U.S. state except for Alaska requires licensing for respiratory therapists. Requirements for licensing of respiratory therapists vary by state. Typically, you will have to hold the CRT or RRT credential to apply for a state license.

What Might My Job Duties Be?

As a respiratory therapist, you work with patients who have breathing maladies. You interview, examine and test patients to assess their treatment needs. Treatments may include artificial or mechanical respiration and chest physiotherapy. You might also supervise respiratory therapy technicians and update patient records.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Armed with an associate's or bachelor's degree, you may be able to become a licensed or certified radiation therapist. Working as part of an oncology team, radiation therapists operate a specialized machine called a linear accelerator. These machines produce concentrated x rays and deliver them to a specific, cancer-inflicted area of the body. The treatments are intended to shrink or eradicate the cancer cells.

A health care career with a faster-than-average projected job growth is that of registered nurse (RN). Though the career generally requires a bachelor's degree, in some cases, according to the BLS, you may qualify for a position with an associate's degree or a diploma from an approved program. Licensure is required in all states. RNs are responsible for educating patients and their families about diagnoses of and treatments for a specific condition. They set up and coordinate patient care plans and work with physicians and other health professionals to perform diagnostic tests and apply appropriate treatments. Some RNs may choose to specialize in areas such as genetics, oncology, neonatology, rehabilitation or nephrology.

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