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Respiration Therapist: Job Description & Career Info

Mar 21, 2019

Respiration therapists work with people of all ages, from premature infants to the elderly, to evaluate and treat respiratory diseases and disorders such as asthma, emphysema, and cystic fibrosis. Find out about job duties, education requirements, salary information and possible alternative careers.

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Career Definition for a Respiration Therapist

A respiration therapist might work in a skilled nursing facility, hospital, respiratory clinic, emergency center, or even providing in-home services to patients. In conjunction with a team of medical professionals, a respiration therapist performs such duties as educating patients on rehabilitative exercises, supervising the use of ventilator equipment, and testing patients for respiration abnormalities.

Education Associate's degree minimum; some therapists pursue a bachelor's degree
Job Skills Good communication, attention to detail, interest in educating others, compassion
Median Salary (2017)* $59,710
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 23% growth

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

The minimum educational requirement for a career in respiratory therapy is a 2-year degree, though most respiration therapists complete four years of training. Specific credentials vary by state, but a 2- or 4-year degree in respiratory therapy must be completed before a candidate may sit for state or national licensing exams. Coursework will include such topics as diagnostic procedures, medical record keeping, biology, physiology, and anatomy. Experienced respiration therapists with advanced degrees may qualify for specialization by acquiring further licensure.

Skills Required

A respiration therapist is a service-minded individual who can remain clear and compassionate in stressful situations. They must communicate well with patients as well as superiors and pay close attention to detail in order to ensure all therapies are applied correctly. Many respiration therapists spend a great deal of time educating patients on the prevention of respiratory disease and are active volunteers for smoking cessation programs, so an interest in educating the public is also important.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reports that the job market for respiration therapists has been growing above the average rate and that growth is projected to be around 23% between 2016 and 2026. The BLS published the median annual income of respiration therapists as $59,710 in May 2017. Because of the wide range of facilities providing careers in respiration therapy, job openings are not limited to large cities with several hospitals. Opportunities for respiration therapists can be found in urban and rural communities across the country.

Alternate Career Options

Athletic Trainers

Those who are interested in preventing, diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses might want to consider a career as an athletic trainer. Much faster than average employment growth of 23% was expected for athletic trainers by the BLS from 2016-2026. In 2017, these professionals, who normally have bachelor's degrees, earned annual median salaries of $46,630, according to the BLS.

Radiation Therapist

Like respiration therapy, this field may be entered with a 2-year degree. These professionals give radiation treatments to patients with cancer and other diseases. They also explain treatment plans, operate x-ray equipment and keep important treatment records. Faster than average job growth of 13% was projected by the BLS for these therapists from 2016-2026. Radiation therapists earned an annual median wage of $80,570 in 2017, the BLS reported.

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