Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Respiratory Therapy

Sep 28, 2019

Respiratory therapy is generally an associate's degree program. Continue reading for an overview of the training as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates

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Working at care centers for the aged, hospitals, rehab clinics and in-home care providers, respiratory therapists help people who have breathing problems caused by physical infirmities, disease or simply advancing years. They work with physicians and other medical professionals to apply appropriate treatments and advise patients about at-home breathing medications and treatments.

Median Salary (2018) $60,280 for respiratory therapists
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 21% growth for respiratory therapists

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapists assist patients who have respiratory or pulmonary illnesses. They administer treatments to patients to increase respiratory function and facilitate independent living. Respiratory therapists work mainly in hospitals, but several also work at rehabilitation facilities, elderly care centers and for in-home care providers. Workers must complete undergraduate degree programs in respiratory therapy to qualify for certification and licensure.

Career Information for Respiratory Therapy

Job Description

Respiratory therapists, who the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also refers to as respiratory care practitioners, assist patients living with breathing problems, such as asthma, pneumonia or other medical issues that decrease lung function. Workers talk with patients to learn about the symptoms patients experience on a daily basis. Respiratory therapists also run tests on patients, including lung capacity tests and blood-oxygen level tests.

After making some preliminary diagnoses, respiratory therapists talk with physicians to determine patient treatment options. Therapists can also administer some medical treatments to patients without doctor approval, such as inhaled medications referred to as breathing treatments. In emergencies when patients are unresponsive, respiratory therapists may have to attach patients to breathing machines or place breathing tubes into a patient's throat.

Respiratory therapists teach patients how to use at-home breathing medications. They also provide patients with advice on lifestyle changes that could improve a person's ability to breathe easier. Some respiratory therapists inspect the homes of patients to determine if any recognizable hazards are causing breathing problems, such as molds, pet dander or other allergens.

Employment Outlook

The BLS predicted that, from 2018-2028, open positions for the respiratory therapy profession would grow by 21%. Since aging patients are living longer, they will require more medical care, which puts respiratory therapy professionals in fairly high demand. The BLS also noted that hospitals are the largest employer of respiratory therapists.

Degree or Certification in Respiratory Therapy

Degree Programs

The minimum education requirement to become a respiratory therapist includes an associate's degree, per the BLS, although bachelor's degree programs are also available, especially for workers who want to go into respiratory therapy administration. Coursework at the associate's degree level includes medical terminology, respiratory therapeutic techniques, cardiopulmonary systems, airway management, respiratory pharmacology and mechanical ventilation technology.

Students also participate in clinicals where they work hands-on with patients. Respiratory therapy clinical rotations allow students to use respiratory treatments and technologies on a diverse patient population, including infants, the elderly and rehabilitation patients. Some students may complete their clinicals at one medical facility, but other students may work clinical rotations at several locations.

Certification Requirements

According to the BLS, respiratory therapists must be licensed in almost every state, but to earn a license usually requires first earning certification through a recognized medical organization. One of the most commonly used certifying boards for workers in this profession includes the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

NBRC offers two levels of certification for this profession; these include the certified respiratory therapist (CRT) and the registered respiratory therapist (RRT). According to NBRC guidelines, respiratory therapists must first earn the CRT before being eligible to earn the RRT. In order to sit for the CRT exam, applicants must complete the minimum of an associate's degree program in respiratory therapy.

Although the CRT exam is completely multiple-choice, the RRT exam does include an essay section as well as a practical skills test. Multiple-choice question topics for the CRT exam include respiratory therapeutic procedures, clinical data interpretation and respiratory equipment usage.

Most states require respiratory therapists to be licensed, which entails an associate's degree and professional certification, which is acquired in a two-step process from the National Board of Respiratory Care. Bachelor's degree programs are available for those who want to go into administration. Employment opportunities in the profession are expected to increase at a much faster rate than the national average for all occupations.

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