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Respiratory Nurse: Salary & Job Description

Respiratory nurses specialize in caring for patients with medical conditions related to the respiratory system. They typically work in hospitals, though they're also needed in other health care facilities.

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What is a Respiratory Nurse?

Respiratory nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who provide care for patients with illnesses and diseases related to the respiratory system. This includes acute issues, like asthma attacks, bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as chronic conditions, including emphysema and lung cancer. Also called pulmonary care nurses, respiratory nurses often work with patients who are critically ill and on a ventilator.

Respiratory nurses typically work in hospitals as part of a care team that includes physicians, advanced practice nurses and respiratory therapists. Together, these health care professionals develop treatments plans for patients, which respiratory nurses then help implement, monitoring patients to evaluate the success of the plan. More specifically, respiratory nurses perform diagnostic tests, give patients medication and administer various treatments, including oxygen therapy and breathing treatments. They also might educate patients and their families about respiratory health, including teaching families how to administer at-home care if needed.

In addition to hospitals, other employers of respiratory nurses include long-term care and assisted living facilities, health clinics and private physicians' offices. They also might provide home care.

Educational Requirements Associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing
Job Skills Comfortable working with all ages, Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification, knowledge of the respiratory system, familiarity with illnesses/diseases of the respiratory system and related treatment devices, writing and verbal communication skills, interpersonal skills
Median Salary (2016)* $68,450 (for all registered nurses)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 15% (for all registered nurses)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Prospective respiratory nurses should earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to qualify for registered nurse licensure, though many employers prefer respiratory nurses with a bachelor's degree. Upon graduation, prospective respiratory nurses must pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Exam) and meet any other state-specified requirements to become an RN.

Additionally, some employers seek respiratory nurses with specialty certification, such as CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse), CNOR (Certified Nurse, Operating Room) or CEN (Certified Emergency Nurse), as well as Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support.

Those who'd like to pursue the more advanced career of respiratory nurse practitioner (NP) must complete a graduate degree program, like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Required Skills

Because respiratory problems affect a wide range of people, from a child suffering from an asthma attack to a senior citizen with chronic emphysema, respiratory nurses must be comfortable working with all ages. They should have advanced knowledge of the respiratory system and illnesses/diseases of that system so they understand their patients' conditions, and they should be familiar with treatment devices to provide proper care. Because they work as part of a care team and interact with patients and their families in a patient educator role, respiratory nurses also need strong writing and verbal communication skills, as well as interpersonal skills.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that registered nurses should see above average job growth from 2016 to 2026. This 15% increase will result, in part, from a larger population of elderly people, many of whom will have chronic conditions.

The BLS also reported that RNs made a median annual wage of $68,450 as of May 2016. The median was slightly higher - at $70,590 - for RNs who worked in hospitals, a common place of employment for respiratory nurses.

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