Patients who have trouble breathing, for whatever reason, can benefit from the services of a respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapists work with patients of any age, from infants to the elderly, and they also assist those who have dealt with significant trauma that causes breathing issues, such as a near-drowning or a heart attack.
Careers in respiratory therapy
Respiratory therapists have many responsibilities, including interviewing and examining patients, consulting with physicians on treatment plans, performing diagnostic tests, providing specialized treatments to help patients breathe easier, and teaching patients how to use those treatments at home. They also keep careful records, regularly monitor patients and supervise respiratory technicians.
The equipment and procedures used by respiratory therapists can vary widely. Treatments might be as simple as providing oxygen support through a mask, or might be as complex as inserting a breathing tube and connecting a ventilator to help treat a patient who can't breathe on their own. They might perform these procedures on the tiniest patients in the neonatal intensive care unit, the elderly in home health care and patients at any age in between.
Job outlook for respiratory therapist careers
Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, though some might work in nursing care facilities or home health care. Full time work is common, and shifts may vary depending upon the setting. Those who are willing to travel for job opportunities might see the best prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), respiratory therapists may expect job growth of 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, mostly attributed to a growing middle-aged and elderly population, and conditions that affect the general population, such as smoking and air pollution.
Expected salary for careers in respiratory therapy
Respiratory therapists made a national median annual wage of $56,290 in 2013, according to the BLS. The highest paid 10 percent earned at least $76,750, while the lowest paid 10 percent earned up to $41,110. Most worked in the following areas:
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Specialty hospitals
- Nursing care facilities
- Offices of physicians
- Consumer goods rental
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Top paying industries, according to the BLS, included:
- Outpatient care centers
- Colleges and universities
- Employment services
- Management of companies and enterprises
- Residential facilities, including those for mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual or developmental disabilities
Job statistics for respiratory therapy careers
Those who want to become a respiratory therapist must hold at least an associate degree, but many employers seek out those who have earned their bachelor's degree, according to the BLS. Employers also tend to look favorably upon those who have earned certification, such as the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) designation. According to the Chicago Tribune, some of the top advantages of a career in respiratory therapy include independence -- the job usually requires very little direct supervision -- and a high level of job satisfaction.
"Independence, career satisfaction rate high for respiratory therapists," Steve Milano, Chicago Jobs, Chicago Tribune, November 5, 2013, http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/jobs/chi-respiratory-therapist-careers-20131105,0,6761791.story
Respiratory Therapists, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291126.htm
Respiratory Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm