Associate of Respiratory Care: Degree Overview
Read about an associate's degree program in respiratory care and discover what students need to enroll. See the topics that are covered in the curriculum and review the employment statistics and certification details.
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 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.
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.
Respiratory therapists work under the supervision of physicians but exercise a great deal of independent decision-making. Supervising patients on ventilators, assisting physicians with procedures such as heart catheterization and developing individualized care plans are all part of a respiratory therapist's duties.
The curriculum in a respiratory care program includes anatomy and the technical aspects of patient care, but a respiratory therapist also must have a good command of chemistry and math principles. Good communications skills are essential, too. Course topics may include:
- Principles of mechanical ventilation
- Basic anatomy
- Medical ethics
- 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 19% from 2012-2022, due primarily to an aging population, but also due to increasing involvement of respiratory care professionals in overall case management (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for a respiratory therapist was $55,870 in May 2012, 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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