How to Become a Respiratory Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for respiratory technicians. Get the facts about education requirements, salary, job outlook and licensure to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Respiratory Technician Do?

Respiratory technicians help respiratory therapists work with patients who are living with breathing disorders. They operate respiratory care equipment and participate in therapy sessions. During therapy sessions they monitor patients and report any abnormal reactions. They are trained to use various breathing treatment devices and to follow safety procedures when using them. Like with many medical careers, keeping patient records is a must. The following chart provides an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Respiratory therapy technician
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required in all but one state; certification is part of earning a license
Key Responsibilities Assist with respiratory patient treatment sessions; operate respiratory therapy equipment
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) -2%*
Average Salary (2015) $49,720*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Respiratory Technician?

Respiratory technicians, also called respiratory therapy technicians, work under the supervision of respiratory therapists and physicians, and care for patients living with cardiopulmonary or other breathing disorders. Their duties include reading patient charts and physicians' orders to determine the course of treatment. Additional responsibilities include collecting arterial blood gas samples, setting controls on equipment, monitoring patients during treatment, modifying treatments and keeping accurate patient records. They may also perform light maintenance and testing on equipment, such as aerosol generators, EKG machines and ventilators.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

Apart from needing a high school diploma to gain admittance into an accredited program, you can direct your high school studies towards respiratory technician training. For example, courses in biology and chemistry prepare you for medical courses in college, and taking courses in office management may help you with the clerical and recordkeeping portion of a technician's job.

Step 2: Complete a Respiratory Technician Program

Respiratory technician associate's degree programs are available at community colleges and vocational schools. Through a combination of classroom instruction and labs, you gain fundamental skills in patient care and are introduced to a range of medical respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and pulmonary congestion. Likely course topics include assessment and diagnostics, therapeutic models, cardiopulmonary anatomy and disease prevention.

Step 3: Obtain a Job as a Respiratory Technician

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of respiratory therapy technicians will decrease about 2% during the 2014-2024 decade, with only 10,000 workers employed as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The vast majority of respiratory therapy technicians worked in hospitals, earning an average salary of $50,200. This is somewhat higher than the average salary of $49,720 for all respiratory therapy technicians.

Step 4: Consider Career Advancement Opportunities

After gaining work experience, you could consider becoming a respiratory therapist. According to the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth, respiratory therapists have more expertise and are prepared to assist with the treatment of more complicated cases (www.michigan.gov). The American Association for Respiratory Care suggests other advancement opportunities for respiratory technicians, including teaching in the field or conducting research (www.aarc.org).

Step 5: Obtain Licensing and Certification

If you become a respiratory therapist, you need to obtain a license in the field. Licensure typically entails completing a respiratory therapy degree program and passing the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) certification exam. The NBRC offers two levels of certification, which include the certified respiratory therapist (CRT) for entry-level practitioners and the registered respiratory therapist (RRT) for advanced practitioners.

To be eligible for CRT certification, you must have completed an associate's degree in respiratory therapy. The CRT examination consists of 160 multiple-choice questions and covers topics in therapeutic procedures, clinical data and equipment. Eligibility for the RRT exam is limited to therapists who have graduated from an advanced program within the past three years. The RRT exam is composed of 115 multiple-choice questions and includes a clinical simulation in which you must resolve several patient management problems.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With a forecasted decline in the employment of respiratory technicians, you may want to keep some related alternative careers in mind. Respiratory therapists do many of the same tasks as respiratory technicians and require about the same level of education. The main difference between these careers is that respiratory therapists are trained to administer emergency care, monitor more vital signs and work more with doctors and nurses. Cardiovascular technologists can also be compared to respiratory technicians, because both are trained to monitor a patient's vital signs, keep records and alert supervisors of complications. Neurodiagnostic technologists are trained to administer and monitor data from various types of neurological tests--such as electroencephalography, polysomnography and nerve conduction studies--which can be used to monitor patients.

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