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Registered Respiratory Therapist: Job Duties & Career Information

Mar 21, 2019

A registered respiratory therapist is part of the health care team that diagnoses and treats patients with cardiopulmonary disorders. Learn about job requirements, education, necessary skills, salary and similar, alternative careers.

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Career Definition for a Respiratory Therapist

The responsibilities of a registered respiratory therapist include analyzing blood specimens, performing stress tests on people with cardiopulmonary disorders, and conducting smoking cessation programs for the public. A registered respiratory therapist might also supervise technicians or other personnel. Registered respiratory therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, patients' homes, specialized clinics, and medical equipment supply companies.

Education Two-year degree required; courses focus on physics, microbiology, mathematics, and pharmacology
Job Skills People-oriented, flexible, confidence, and possibly the willingness to lead
Median Salary 2017* $59,710
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 23% growth

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

The minimum educational requirement for a career in respiratory health services is a 2-year degree in respiratory therapy; however, many registered respiratory therapists receive four or more years of training. Coursework may include physics, mathematics, microbiology and pharmacology. Currently, more than 400 colleges and universities offer programs that can lead to a career in respiratory health services. Upon completing such a program, candidates must pass two additional exams to become registered respiratory therapists.

Skills Required

A registered respiratory therapist works with people of all ages in a variety of situations, so being people-oriented and flexible are important qualities. Because a career in respiratory health services might also lead to supervisory responsibilities, confidence and the willingness to lead a team are highly valued.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) projects much faster than average growth in the field of respiratory health services; the BLS projects a growth of 23% in the field from 2016 to 2026. America's aging population and environmental factors affecting our health contribute to this trend. The median annual income for those working as respiratory therapists was documented by the Bureau to be $59,710 in May 2017.

Alternative Career Options

Some additional healthcare occupations to consider include the following:

Radiation Therapist

Like respiratory therapists, radiation therapists work directly with patients and may enter the profession with a 2-year degree. This position involves explaining the treatment plans to patients, operating x-ray equipment and keeping detailed treatment records. Following safety procedures is an important part of the job to protect both patients and therapists from radiation overexposure. Faster than average job growth of 13% was predicted by the BLS for this profession from 2016-2026. Radiation therapists earned an annual median salary of $80,570 in 2017, according to the BLS.

Registered Nurse

Also working directly with patients, registered nurses may become active in the profession with an associate's degree; they provide patient care and advice pertaining to many types of health conditions. Registered nurses in 2017 earned an annual median salary of $70,000, the BLS reported. Faster than average employment growth of 15% was also projected by the BLS for this profession during the decade spanning 2016-2026.

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