Respiratory Care Programs by Degree Program Level

Mar 27, 2021

Essential Information

An associate degree in respiratory care, also known as respiratory therapy, is the minimum educational requirement to be a respiratory care practitioner. These programs require a high school diploma or GED for enrollment.

Bachelor's programs teach students to safely administer cardiorespiratory drugs and medical gases, as well as to perform and evaluate diagnostic test results, including pulmonary function study and arterial blood gas tests. Some bachelor's programs only admit students who already hold a certificate, an associate degree, and/or licensure.

Master's programs are usually more involved with management or education, and applicants typically hold a bachelor's degree and are working as respiratory therapists or closely related healthcare professionals.

Online courses and programs are available.

Associate of Science in Respiratory Care

Respiratory care programs at the associate degree level include coursework in cardiopulmonary pharmacology, critical care concepts, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, clinical procedures, and pediatric respiratory care.

Graduates of associate's degree programs in respiratory care are eligible to take the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credentialing examination, which is offered through the National Board for respiratory care (NBRC). Associate's degree programs in respiratory care also allow for specialized study in areas such as HIV/AIDS, lung cancer, pneumonia, and cystic fibrosis.

Students must complete around 64 hours of program coursework to obtain their A.S. in Respiratory Care degrees. Programs typically include courses such as:

  • Introduction to respiratory care
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient assessment
  • Clinical practice
  • Basics of mechanical ventilation
  • Cardiopulmonary diagnostics

Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Care

Respiratory care programs at this level also include instruction in mechanical ventilation maintenance, bronchoscopies, heart catheterization, and arterial cannula insertion. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in respiratory care are eligible to apply for the NBRC's Advanced Practitioner Exam to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Students enrolled in a B.S. program in respiratory care are expected to complete their chosen institution's general education requirements in addition to their core coursework.

  • Pulmonary physiology
  • Pulmonary pathology
  • Cardiopulmonary diagnosis and monitoring
  • Cardiovascular physiology
  • Patient assessment

Master of Science in Respiratory Care

Graduate programs in respiratory care are designed for students and professionals seeking to attain managerial or educational positions in the field. Candidates in respiratory care programs leading to a Master of Science study topics in advanced neonatal respiratory care, mechanical ventilation, respiratory care research, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, and respiratory care management.

Some schools also offer respiratory care programs emphasizing leadership roles; instruction focuses on non-profit management, healthcare management, clinical design, regulatory affairs, project management, and higher education administration.

Master's degree programs in respiratory care typically require around 55 hours of coursework for completion.

  • Research design
  • Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • Perinatal/pediatric respiratory care
  • Healthcare management
  • Health law and policy

Popular Career Options

Graduates of associate programs in respiratory care are qualified to work as entry-level respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists who obtain master's degrees in this field often move away from active therapy. Places, industries, and careers for respiratory therapists may include:

  • Hospitals
  • In-home care
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Healthcare manager
  • Respiratory therapy educator
  • U.S. Military

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for respiratory therapists are expected to increase by 19% from 2019 to 2029, which is considered to be much faster than average. The average annual salary for respiratory therapists in May 2019 was reported as $63,950 by the BLS; the same source published that respiratory therapy technicians earned a mean salary of $51,380 in May 2018.

Students interested in the field of respiratory care can pursue associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs. The first two programs, coupled with certification/licensure, allow students to become respiratory therapists, while a master's degree qualifies graduates for a managerial or educational positions.

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