Schools and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Associate|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||116,960|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||4.1%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||5,270|
- Although the minimum academic requirement is an associate degree, a bachelor's degree provides broader employment opportunities.
- Programs are offered by colleges and universities at the associate, bachelor's, and post-graduate levels.
- Respiratory therapists must complete a training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.
What you study:
Study topics include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Biomedical technology
- Respiratory assessment
- Respiratory therapeutic techniques
An introduction into the work of respiratory therapists. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
Breath is life, and as a respiratory therapist you help patients maintain cardiopulmonary health. You assess and treat people of all ages who have chronic or acute respiratory needs. As part of the care team, you employ lifesaving practices that include:
- Assessing patients with breathing disorders
- Maintaining patients on ventilators
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Providing chest physiotherapy to clear lungs
- Resuscitating victims in emergencies
Your day begins with examining a new asthma patient and recommending a more effective aerosol medication. You consult with the child's pediatrician on the treatment plan and then meet with the parents to teach them about the new regimen.
Variety is the norm for many respiratory therapists, and you receive an urgent page to assist with a patient who has stopped breathing. You work with the physician and nurses to stabilize him and set him up on a ventilator. You will need to monitor this patient frequently and be ready to respond to a life-threatening change in his condition.
You finish in time to go on physician rounds in the ICU. With the doctor, you evaluate each patient's respiratory status and decide on ventilator changes and other therapy adjustments. Afterward, you grab a quick lunch before doing your own rounds of ventilator patients in other units. You record equipment settings and check each patient's lungs for any changes.
Two of your patients are ready to be weaned off of ventilators and need blood gases checked. The test will tell you how well the patients are oxygenating blood and removing carbon dioxide. You draw their blood samples and take them to the lab for immediate analysis.
Lastly, you complete your reports on patient progress and treatment. In a 12-hour shift, you have supported the human lifespan from birth to old age. You have attended to premature infants, saved a life in the ER, and helped emphysema patients breathe easier for another day.
Certifications and Licensing
The respiratory therapy field is regulated at the state level, and almost all states require licensure. To become licensed, candidates must obtain a credential through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Graduates of an accredited training program can earn initial credentials by passing the NBRC's Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam.
Practitioners can earn a more advanced credential, the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), which is often required for more senior positions. Additional credentials are available for a number of specializations such as critical care.
Full-time versus part-time:
Most respiratory therapists work full time. As respiratory care is needed at all hours, some practitioners work evening, night, or weekend shifts.
Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals. Others are employed in a variety of settings such as skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, patient transport, and home care.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook The site gives a balanced overview of the respiratory therapy profession. The information helps you understand the basics of the highly specialized role that respiratory therapists play in patient care. As the field is diverse, follow up with additional websites that discuss it in greater detail.
- National Board for Respiratory Care The NBRC is the organization that provides credentialing for respiratory therapists. The site offers thorough information on the credentialing process including a downloadable candidate handbook and contact information for state licensure agencies.
- American Association for Respiratory Care The AARC is a professional organization for respiratory care practitioners. The site includes a Be an RT" section that provides a good introduction to the profession from an insider point of view. It also has a career section with national job listings and job-hunting tips.
- Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care The CoARC accredits respiratory therapy education programs at all academic levels. The site's section for students and the public includes a searchable list of accredited programs.
- Explore Health Careers ExploreHealthCareers.org is an online healthcare initiative to provide students with detailed information about health careers. The site profiles respiratory therapists and explains how to prepare for the field.