Associate of Respiratory Care: Degree Overview

Respiratory therapists work under the supervision of physicians but exercise a great deal of independent decision-making. Their duties include supervising patients on ventilators, assisting physicians with procedures such as heart catheterization and developing individualized care plans.

Essential Information

An Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Respiratory Care degree program prepares students to become respiratory therapists who evaluate, treat and assist patients suffering from breathing problems. Students in these programs participate in lecture courses, hands-on training labs and clinical experiences in hospitals or similar healthcare facilities. This program usually takes about two years to complete and is offered at community colleges, allied health schools or vocational schools. Graduates are prepared for professional licensure, which is mandatory in most areas of the country.

  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, strong science background
  • Program Length: Two years
  • Other Requirements: Hands-on training labs, clinical experience

Associate's Degree Programs in Respiratory Care

Students must have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. High school coursework in biology and chemistry is recommended. Before admission to the respiratory therapy degree program, a student usually must have completed at least 12 hours of college coursework, including chemistry and biology.

Curriculum includes anatomy and the technical aspects of patient care, but a respiratory therapist also must have a good command of communications skills, chemistry and math principles. Course topics may include:

  • Principles of mechanical ventilation
  • Medical ethics
  • Psychology
  • Geriatrics and pediatrics
  • Basic anatomy
  • Computer skills

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Employment may be pursued in hospitals, long-term care homes, ambulance services and with home care providers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment for respiratory therapists would grow by 12% from 2014-2024, due primarily to an aging population, but also due to increasing involvement of respiratory care professionals in overall case management ( The mean annual salary for a respiratory therapist was $59,640 in May 2015, the BLS reported.

Licensing, Professional Certification and Continuing Education

Most states require that respiratory therapists be licensed. Licensing is usually achieved by meeting the certification requirements of the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which offers certifications at several levels and in several specialty areas.

Opportunities for career advancement are open to respiratory therapists who hold bachelor's or master's degrees. They can move into supervisory positions in medical care facilities or become managers with home health care businesses. Some respiratory therapists teach or work with medical device suppliers and manufacturers.

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