How to Become a Certified Respiratory Therapist

Learn how to become a respiratory therapist. Research the job duties, education, licensing and certification requirements to find out how to start a career in respiratory therapy.

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Should I Become a Certified Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapist commonly treat patients suffering from lung conditions like asthma and emphysema by administering oxygen through ventilation devices. They may also help patience who've had an heart attack or stroke regain normal breathing function. Standing for long periods of time might be required, in addition to turning or lifting patients. Some respiratory therapists work in hospitals or nursing homes, while others travel to patients' homes to install and maintain respiratory equipment for at-home use. Respiratory therapists who work in medical facilities often work evenings and weekends.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree minimum education required; some employers prefer a bachelor's degree
Degree Field Respiratory therapy
Experience Hands-on experience is required in all training programs
Licensure and Certification Licensing required in almost every state; life support certifications typically required; voluntary certification available
Key Skills Communication, science and math, problem-solving and detail-oriented skills, ability to express compassion and patience; ability to use oxygen measurement and therapeutic devices
Salary $56,730 per year (2014 median salary for all respiratory therapists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (August 2015)

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Many community and technical colleges offer associate's degree programs in respiratory therapy. Some programs require that applicants demonstrate a commitment to the profession by showing documented volunteer or work experience hours in a respiratory healthcare setting. Students should choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) to ensure that all requirements for licensure and certification are met. Coursework in an associate's degree program introduces students to theories and science of respiratory therapy and teaches clinical techniques for use with adults, children and infants. Students complete clinical rotations in various specialty areas to learn how to properly put their skills to work in real-life situations.

Step 2: Complete the Examination to Become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) administers the computer-based CRT test daily through testing centers located across the country (www.nbrc.org). The organization offers a free online practice test to acquaint candidates with the format of the certification exam.

Step 3: Obtain a State License

Every state except Alaska regulates licensure for respiratory therapists. Many states require that professionals pass the NBRC exam and be certified as CRTs to qualify for state licensure. Some states require a higher level of certification, such as Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Step 4: Consider Obtaining Additional Certification

Many employers prefer or require respiratory therapists to have additional life support certifications. Respiratory therapists who want to work with children or infants should consider getting Pediatric Advanced Life Support certification and completing a Neonatal Resuscitation Program. All respiratory therapists should also consider earning Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support certifications.

Step 5: Complete Continuing Education and Maintain Certification and Licensure

The NBRC requires CRTs to renew their credentials every 5 years through continuing education or retesting. CRTs must also maintain their active status annually by submitting a document verifying that they are practicing respiratory therapy. Additionally, some states require continuing education to keep licensure active. Life support certifications must also be kept active through a recertification process.

Step 6: Consider Advanced Certification

Professionals holding the CRT credential can become RRTs. The RRT credential is required for some jobs and could help a therapist become a more competitive employment candidate. Candidates must pass written and clinical examinations to earn the RRT designation. Depending on a candidate's particular situation, he or she may be required to earn both the CRT and RRT designations within 3 years of graduating from a respiratory therapy program.

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