Respiratory Therapist Licensure and Credential Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a respiratory therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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To become a respiratory therapist you have the option of earning an associate's (most common) or a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy through an accredited program. You must also become licensed by the National Board for Respiratory Care. Two certifications are required, related to each other, and offered consecutively.

Essential Information

Respiratory therapists care for patients with lung ailments by administering therapeutic treatments, such as oxygen or aerosol medications. Respiratory therapist training involves completing either a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree through a technical school or university program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).

Required Education Either a 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree through an accredited technical school or university program
Other Requirements Licensure by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and 30 hours of continuing education annually
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 12% for respiratory therapists*
Median Salary (2015) $57,790 for respiratory therapists*

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Licensure Information for Respiratory Therapists

After completion of a respiratory therapist degree program, graduates are required to obtain licensure to practice within their state. Licensure and certification are directly related, and obtaining a license is largely based on passing a national certification exam administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). The NBRC awards the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential to graduates who have completed an accredited respiratory therapy degree program. The Board also offers the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential to therapists who are currently working in the field.

Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) Credential

The CRT exam is given to graduates who are applying for an entry-level position as a respiratory therapist. Graduates are eligible to take the exam if they are 18 years or older, have either an associate degree or bachelor's degree from an accredited college and have scheduled their exam either 30 days before or 60 days after graduation.

The 3-hour exam measures the graduate's basic knowledge in such areas as patient data, medical equipment and therapeutic procedures. According to the National Board for Respiratory Care, the written test consists of 160 multiple-choice questions where only 140 questions are scored, and the remaining 20 questions are pretest items, which are not scored. Pretest items are included in the exam for the purpose of developing new questions for future examinations.

Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) Credential

The RRT exam includes written and clinical portions. According to the National Board for Respiratory Care, the written portion is a 2-hour test where individuals are required to answer 115 multiple-choice questions (100 are scored and 15 are pretest questions) in the same content areas as the CRT exam but at an advanced level.

The 4-hour clinical portion of the exam requires individuals to randomly choose ten separate patient problems and demonstrate the necessary procedures to treat them. For example, individuals must demonstrate how to treat an infant with respiratory distress syndrome or how to manage a stroke patient who is on a mechanical ventilator. Before taking the RRT exam, individuals should be 18 years or older, have already received their CRT credential and have at least three years' experience working as a respiratory therapist.

Receiving Licensure and Maintaining Credentials

Before taking the CRT or RRT exams, individuals need to apply online through the NBRC's website by filling out an application. After the NBRC receives the application, applicants then schedule their exam by calling a toll-free phone number. All exams are taken using a computer at a specified testing site. The completed exams are immediately scored on a pass or fail basis. Applicants who fail will have a chance to take the test again with no waiting period between exams.

Those who pass receive their license in the mail. Licensed individuals maintain their credential by acquiring 30 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and renewing their license every year with the NBRC.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that respiratory therapists earned a median annual salary of $57,790 in May, 2015. Faster than average job growth of 12% is predicted by the BLS, from 2014-2024. Therapists with bachelor's degrees or certifications are projected to have the best opportunities.

Although bachelor's degrees are offered, earning an associate's degree is the most common avenue to becoming a respiratory therapist. Licensure is required in every state. CRT certification is offered to new graduates, while RRT certification is offered to those who have held CRT certification for three years and are at least 18 years of age. Opportunities for employment are projected to increase at a faster rate than the national average for all occupations.

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