Respiratory Therapist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for respiratory therapists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, licensing and salary 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 play a major role in the allied health field by helping patients who suffer from breathing problems due to lung and heart conditions or diseases. They perform diagnostic tests on patients to discover the problem and then perform various treatments, typically after consulting with a physician. They will often work with the same patient over time and monitor their progress by keeping notes and records. The following table provides an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Respiratory therapy
Key Skills Operate and maintain respiratory therapy equipment; provide therapies for patients with breathing problems; maintain patient records; develop treatment plans with physician
Licensure/Certification Required All states except Alaska require licensing; most states require certification
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 12%*
Average Salary (2015) $59,640*

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

What Do Respiratory Therapists Do?

As a respiratory therapist, you'll be responsible for working with patients who have chronic lung problems like emphysema or asthma. The scope of the patients you'll serve also includes premature infants, heart attack victims and people who suffer with issues like lung cancer or AIDS. Working under a physician, you'll assist these suffering patients by diagnosing their problems, performing necessary physical examinations, providing emergency care and creating effective treatment plans.

As a respiratory therapist, you might find work in hospitals, emergency rooms, nursing facilities, senior centers or even patients' homes. In those work environments, you'll monitor patients' progress after procedures, provide oxygen and adjust levels when needed, perform chest physiotherapy to open up patients' lungs, and educate patients, their family members and the general public on ways they can treat or prevent lung disease. You'll also check equipment for problems and make sure the necessary repairs are completed. In addition, you'll manage respiratory therapy technicians and may even assist in testing for, diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.

What Educational Requirements Must I Fulfill?

Unlike some other positions in the healthcare industry, there is flexibility in regards to the educational requirements needed to become a respiratory therapist. An associate's, bachelor's or master's degree can all possibly help you to get started in the field (www.aarc.org). However, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only a small amount of entry-level jobs are given to individuals who have only earned an associate's degree in respiratory therapy (www.bls.gov). Regardless of the degree level, the program you choose needs to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Required courses should cover science-based areas such as chemistry, pharmacology, physiology and human anatomy. You'll also take courses that are more specific to the respiratory field, such as resuscitation techniques, patient care, record keeping skills and respiratory health promotion. In addition, you need to become CPR certified.

What Are My Licensure Requirements?

Licensure is required in all states except Alaska and is necessary before you can begin practicing in the field. The National Board for Respiratory Care mandates many of the certification requirements, according to the BLS. In order to obtain licensure, you need to first graduate from an accredited program and pass some exams.

Ultimately, you can become a classified respiratory therapist on one of two levels: certified respiratory therapist (CRT) and registered respiratory therapist (RRT). The first designation is considered to be entry-level, and the second is an advanced level. To become a CRT, you'll need to pass an entry-level national exam after graduating from an accredited program. Once you're certified, you'll be able to become an RRT by successively completing a two-part registry exam consisting of a written and simulation exam (www.hccs.edu).

What Could I Expect To Earn?

The growth of the middle-aged and elderly populations is expected to result in an increase in the number of respiratory issues requiring medical assistance, according to the BLS. This will create a greater need for respiratory therapists and is expected to cause an employment growth of 12% between 2014 and 2024. Salary amounts will vary depending on where you work, your years of experience and whether you are a CRT or an RRT. However, according to the BLS, the average annual salary for all respiratory therapists was $59,640 in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Depending on your specific interests, there are a number of careers that may be of interest to you. A career in exercise physiology requires a bachelor's degree and involves helping patients develop exercise programs to recover from illnesses and diseases by improving their cardiovascular function. For those who are only interested in pursuing an associate's degree could enter the field of radiation therapy. These professionals administer radiation treatment to individuals who have cancer and other diseases.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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