Associate in Science (AS): Respiratory Therapy Degree Overview

Associate in Science (AS) degree programs in respiratory therapy teach students how to evaluate, treat, and care for patients with respiratory issues. Explore the curriculum and career options for graduates.

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Essential Information

These AS programs cover respiratory therapy, the health care field that helps patients overcome cardiopulmonary illnesses and breathing problems. They prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists or respiratory therapy technicians and qualify them for state and national licensure exams.

In addition to high school diplomas, applicants to respiratory therapy AS programs must have sufficient math and biology credits. Candidates must also have health insurance, provide proof of a physical examination and submit to drug screening and criminal background checks. Some schools also require applicants to have CPR certification.

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Associate in Science in Respiratory Therapy

Students can expect to get hands-on experience both on campus and in health care settings. For instance, they may be required to perform clinical rotations or complete respiratory care shadowing with respiratory therapists. In addition to courses in mathematics and the sciences, candidates take courses specific to respiratory breathing, including:

  • Respiratory assessment
  • Basic through advanced respiratory care
  • Mechanical ventilation and critical care
  • Advanced airway techniques
  • Arterial blood gases

Popular Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, respiratory therapists were expected to experience a faster-than-average employment growth of 12% between 2014 and 2024. An increase in the aging population will likely fuel this growth, since elderly people are more likely to suffer from cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases. Another reason for growth in the field is increased access to health insurance resulting from federal healthcare reform. The median wage for these therapists was $57,790 in May 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Since a respiratory therapist may be hired with an associate's degree, many graduates choose to seek employment immediately upon graduation. However, bachelor's degree programs in respiratory therapy are also common and are often preferred by employers. Bachelor's programs prepare students for more advanced respiratory care positions.

Respiratory therapists are required to be licensed and, in some cases, certified before they can practice. Certification as a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) is obtained by passing a written exam provided by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Licensure is often based on applicants passing the NBRC certification exam. Respiratory therapists who wish to work in intensive care or supervisory positions typically become Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT) by passing two examinations.

By earning an AS in Respiratory Therapy, students receive the general education and specific healthcare training they need to become licensed and start working in the field. Graduates may also consider pursuing bachelor's degrees in the field, which may increase job prospects.

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