How To Become A Respiratory Therapist

If you want a career that gives you the chance to help patients having breathing problems, you can consider becoming a respiratory therapist. In this profession, you will have the chance to provide care to patients of varying ages—from infants to the elderly—who are suffering from cardiopulmonary disorders and other lung ailments. You will be examining patients and doing diagnostic tests to ascertain the problem and then work together with physicians to come up with treatment plans. You will also be administering treatment through different methods and monitoring the patient to see how he is responding to it. If the patient will need to administer the treatments at home, you will show him the proper way to do it.

Chest physiotherapy is a form of treatment that you could employ as a respiratory therapist to take out mucus from the lungs of patients so they will be able to breathe better. The method basically involves giving a tap to the chest and asking the patient to cough. For patients who will not be able to breathe without external help, part of your job will be to insert a tube to their windpipe which is then connected to ventilator equipment that provides oxygen to the lungs.

Aside from the technical knowledge that can be learned in school, respiratory therapists must be perceptive and possess excellent problem solving skills. Thus, you should be able to observe the changes happening in a patient and implement the necessary corrective measures to alleviate breathing difficulties. After examining a patient and conferring with other members of the healthcare team, you should be able to administer the most appropriate treatment plan to improve his condition.

Why Become A Respiratory Therapist

One of the reasons to pursue a career as a respiratory therapist is the fact that it gives you the chance to provide the patient with the “breath of life.” The fulfillment that can be felt seeing the relief a child with asthma feels after you have administered medication is truly extraordinary. Giving care to a premature infant born with undeveloped lungs, aiding him in his daily struggle to breathe, is also very inspiring. As a respiratory therapist, these become regular features of your work.

On the more practical aspect, one reason to become a respiratory therapist is the chance to go into a healthcare career without spending too much time and money in school. It is also a rapidly-growing occupation that is expected to open a lot of job opportunities in the coming years. It’s also a career that provides very decent living wages as well.

Respiratory Therapist Work Environment

Respiratory therapists are usually employed by hospitals, although some are hired by nursing care facilities. Some provide care for private patients in the latter’s homes. Work schedule is often fulltime. Those who are employed in medical facilities that provide 24 hour services can be asked to work on evenings and weekends. Respiratory therapists need to physically strong and fit as their work involves standing on their feet for hours at a time and assisting or lifting patients who cannot move on their own.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed in its May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wages report that respiratory therapists received a mean annual wage of $57,880. This is higher than the $45,520 paid to recreational therapists but lower than the $77,890 received by occupational therapists and the $82,180 paid to physical therapists. In May 2012, however, when the median annual wage of respiratory therapists was at $55,870, the highest paid practitioners received more than $75,430 annually.

Average Respiratory Therapist Annual Salary


The average annual salary for respiratory therapists is $61,810 a year. Salaries start at $43,120 a year and go up to $83,030 a year.

Average Respiratory Therapist Hourly Wage


The average hourly wage for a respiratory therapist is $29.72. Hourly wages are between $20.73 and $39.92 an hour.

Stats were based out of 128,250 employed respiratory therapists in the United States.

Highest Paying States For Respiratory Therapists

Top Paying Cities For Respiratory Therapists

Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Respiratory Therapist Career Outlook

The job outlook for respiratory therapists from 2012 to 2022 is quite positive. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in that time period, the employment rate of these professionals is set to grow 19 percent, a rate that is faster than the average for all job types. Thus, from the 119,300 respiratory therapists hired in 2012, the number is projected to increase to 142,100 in 2022.

The demand will be spurred by the growing aging population who are more prone to suffering respiratory conditions and breathing difficulties that will require them to see respiratory therapists. Moreover, advancements in medical technology, smoking, smog and other respiratory emergencies will continue to contribute to the demand.

Respiratory Therapist Degree

The educational entry point to become a respiratory therapist is an associate or a bachelor’s degree. These programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent so graduating from high school is a must. Those who are still in high school but want to become respiratory therapists someday would do well to take up courses in biology, health, math and other science subjects as these would be good preparation for this career.

Respiratory therapy programs are offered by colleges and universities, vocational-technical schools and the Armed Forces. While a two-year associate degree would help respiratory therapists get a job, finishing a four-year bachelor’s degree will definitely increase one’s chances. In these programs, aspiring respiratory therapists are taught human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, mathematics, therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests, patient assessment, equipment and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In addition to classroom instruction, these programs also have a clinical component that allow students to get hands-on experience in treating patients under the supervision of an experienced respiratory therapist.

All states, except Alaska, require respiratory therapists to be licensed before practicing their occupation. The requirements vary from one state to another but it usually involves passing a state test or a professional certification exam.

A certification is highly sought-after in this field. Thus, even if it is not really mandatory, all respiratory therapists are encouraged to get certified. There are two levels of certification that can be obtained from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). The first-level is that of a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) while the second-level certification is that of Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). To become a CRT, the applicant must have graduated from a respiratory therapy program at the associate’s or bachelor’s degree level and pass a test. CRTs can become RRTs by complying with education or work requirements of the NBRC and passing another exam.

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