Aspiring respiratory therapists need to complete 2-year, associate's degree programs before entering this field (www.bls.gov). Students should ensure that the program they enter is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduates of 2- and 4-year degree programs are eligible to take certification exams.
Prerequisites for beginning a respiratory therapists program include having good math, computer and problem-solving skills. Good communication skills and the ability to work with others are also essential. In addition, respiratory therapists need to have the skills to tend to both the physical and mental demands of their patients.
Associate's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
A 2-year program in respiratory therapy typically results in an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. While those with associate's degrees are qualified for entry-level positions in respiratory therapy, many students use the associate's degree program as preparation to pursue 4-year degrees. Courses include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Respiratory therapy principles
- Respiratory therapy procedures
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Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
The Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy degree program introduces students to more advanced and area-specific studies than the 2-year degree program. Completion of some 4-year degree programs leads directly to the graduate being certified as a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Courses might include:
- Pediatric respiratory therapy
- Neonatal respiratory therapy
- Elderly care
- Critical care and rehabilitation
Licenses and Certifications
The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) provides the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential to graduates of accredited respiratory therapy degree programs (www.nbrc.org). An advanced Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification is also available. Except for those who have graduated from a dual bachelor's degree/certification program, one must have the CRT credential and pass two exams in order to obtain the RRT certification.
According to the BLS, a respiratory therapist must, in 48 states, meet the requirements for certification in order to obtain licensure. The BLS also reports that many employers require respiratory therapists to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This certification needs to be renewed periodically. Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, offered by the American Heart Association (AHA), is also required by some employers.
Continuing Education Workshops and Seminars
The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) provides webcasts on contemporary topics in respiratory therapy and continuing education courses (www.aarc.org). Seminars in respiratory care and therapy are also part of some college degree programs.
Finding a certified program is the first step to becoming a respiratory therapist. There are two-year and four-year option programs available. The programs will prepare students to earn the required certification and licensure that respiratory therapists must have.