If you're looking for a career in the health care field but don't want to spend years in school, consider becoming a respiratory therapist. You can meet respiratory therapist education requirements in as little as two years and then be ready for a job that involves all the following:
- Examining patients of all ages who have breathing problems.
- Testing lung capacity and other indicators of respiratory health.
- Working with physicians to develop breathing treatment plans.
- Treating patients and teaching them breathing exercises.
- Monitoring and recording patient progress.
Respiratory Therapist Specializations
While all respiratory therapists work to promote better breathing, they may do so with different patient populations or in different settings. Knowing the available specializations can help you better understand what does a respiratory therapist do.
The following are some of the specialized services provided by graduates of respiratory therapist programs.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation therapists work with those who have chronic conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Long-term care respiratory therapists provide services to residents in nursing homes, rehabilitation hospitals and similar facilities.
- Critical care respiratory therapists staff intensive care units or emergency rooms to help patients who are seriously ill. Some may even serve as surface and air transport therapists to assist critically ill patients who are being taken to the hospital.
- Neonatal-pediatrics respiratory therapists work exclusively with young patients and are commonly employed by children's hospitals.
How to Become a Respiratory Therapist
Does this sound like the career for you? If so, you'll need to meet certain respiratory therapist education requirements. Consider the following steps to becoming a respiratory therapist:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Complete postsecondary training. Typically, respiratory therapists earn at least an associate degree, though a bachelor's degree may help set you apart from the competition.
- Gain experience in the field.
- Get certified and obtain a license to work in the state of your choosing.
While each respiratory therapist school has its own curriculum, you'll likely study the following subjects in addition to getting instruction on therapy procedures and testing:
Degree Programs for Respiratory Therapists
Here's a look at the most common levels of education for professionals in the field.
- Associate Degree: A two-year associate degree in the standard entry-level education for respiratory therapists. An associate degree will include both classroom and clinical instruction. Look for respiratory therapist programs that will meet your state's licensure requirements.
- Bachelor's Degree: Some employers prefer to hire respiratory therapists with a four-year degree, but you don't need a bachelor's degree to get a job. Some people like to pursue this level of education because it offers instruction in advanced topics that can enhance job opportunities.
Respiratory Therapy Schools
You'll find respiratory therapist programs at vocational schools, community colleges and universities. If you're looking for a respiratory therapist online school, you'll find a number of options. However, you won't find associate degrees online since respiratory therapists have a hands-on profession. That means associate degree programs typically have clinical requirements that must be completed in-person.
Online respiratory therapist programs are usually for bachelor's degrees. They are for those who already have an associate degree and are working as a therapist. Since current therapists already have hands-on experience, these degree completion programs can often teach advanced concepts 100 percent online.
Respiratory Therapist Licensure and Certification
With the exception of Alaska, all states require respiratory therapists be licensed. The process can vary by state but often includes graduating from an approved respiratory therapist school and passing an exam.
There are also two levels of certification for respiratory therapists. These certifications are offered by The National Board for Respiratory Care. While becoming certified is voluntary, many employers are looking for therapists with one of the following two credentials:
- Certified Respiratory Therapist Applicants for this designation must hold an associate or bachelor's degree in the field as well as pass a multi-choice examination.
- Registered Respiratory Therapist Those who have passed the CRT exam can then complete a clinical simulation examination to receive the RRT credential.
The National Board for Respiratory Care also offer specialty examinations in the fields of adult critical care, neonatal/pediatric and sleep disorders.
Career Advancement in Respiratory Therapy
Becoming certified is one way to move up in the ranks. Going from a CRT to a RRT designation or earning a specialty credential may also lead to new jobs or responsibilities. You can also advance your career by enrolling in a respiratory therapist online school and earning a bachelor's degree.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Respiratory Therapists
Many people who are learning about this career for the first time want to know what does a respiratory therapist do. However, just as important is asking yourself whether you have the skills and abilities to the do the job well. Consider the following qualities that are commonly found in good therapists.
- Social perceptiveness: People don't always act as we expect, and respiratory therapists need to be pick up on social cues to see and understand how a patient is responding to their therapy.
- Active listening: It may fall to a therapist to interview a patient to understand their condition and concerns. Effective respiratory therapists do more than listen to answers; they also ask appropriate follow-up questions.
- Time management: A respiratory therapist may have many patients to see and work independently to schedule their visits. This makes time management a critical skill for these professionals.
- Problem Sensitivity: This quality is the ability to recognize when a problem may occur, such as patient resistance or an ineffective treatment.
- Oral comprehension: Respiratory therapists receive information from patients, physicians and other members of a health care team, and they must be able to understand details shared verbally.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Respiratory Therapists
By now you may be wondering how much does a respiratory therapist make. National data is included in the chart below, but be aware that actual incomes can vary depending on a person's education, certification and employer. As for career outlook, job availability can also depend on a number of factors. For instance, respiratory therapists may be in greater demand in cities with large hospital networks. However, you'll find the estimated job growth nationwide listed below, as well:
Projected Job Growth
|Medical Dosimetrists, Medical Records Specialists, and Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other||331,790||$46,590||-57.5%|
Professional Resources for Respiratory Therapists
If you're planning to enroll in a respiratory therapist school, you should also know about these industry groups.
- American Association for Respiratory Care - Considered a leading national organization for respiratory therapists, AARC works to promote the profession.
- The National Board for Respiratory Care - This board manages the nationally-recognized credentialing program for respiratory therapists.
- State Licensure Websites - Contact your state's licensing board to learn their requirements for respiratory therapists. You can find your state's website using this resource page from AARC.