Respiratory Therapist Education Requirements and Career Overview

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

Chance of employment in the field of respiratory therapy is projected to grow faster than the average of all other occupations. It also presents a wide opportunity for advancement with many schools offering degrees from associate's through the master's levels.

Essential Information

Respiratory therapists need at least an associate's degree, but some positions may require more advanced schooling. Licensure is required in most states and obtaining one of two certifications is part of the licensing process. These medical professionals generally work with patients of different ages and treat individuals with conditions like asthma.

Required Education Associate's degree
Other Requirements State licensure and certification
Projected Job Growth 12% from 2014-2024*
Median Salary (2015) $57,790 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Respiratory Therapist Education Requirements

Respiratory therapists begin their careers by completing an associate's degree, but a bachelor's or master's degree may lead to better career opportunities. Core courses include chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology. Some bachelor's degree programs require students to complete these courses as prerequisites with a satisfactory grade point average before being admitted to the respiratory therapy program. Schools may offer integrated programs that lead to a bachelor's and master's degree upon completion.

Advanced coursework may cover the procedures used by respiratory therapists, including cardiopulmonary diagnostics and pulmonary rehabilitation. The capstone requirement of many programs is clinical experience, which allows students to practice respiratory therapy techniques under the supervision of licensed therapists.

Students may consider programs accredited by either the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Graduating from an accredited program leads to eligibility for certification examinations.

Licensing Requirements

Most states have licensing requirements, such as age limits and background checks. A typical requirement for licensure is being certified by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which offers two major certifications. The first is the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential that is available to individuals with a minimum of an associate's degree and who pass the qualifying exam. The exam topics include patient care, equipment handling and quality control.

The second certification offered by the NBRC is the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. To become a RRT, individuals must be a CRT, meet educational or experience requirements and pass two exams. The written exam includes topics in clinical analysis, data and procedures. The second exam involves live simulations of clinical situations that a respiratory therapist may face.

Respiratory Therapist Career Overview

Respiratory therapists assess and treat patients suffering from breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. They may assist lung cancer patients, premature infants and victims of a heart attack or stroke. Respiratory therapists perform many diagnostic and analytic procedures, such as evaluating lung capacity, performing chest physiotherapy and monitoring cardiopulmonary systems. They may examine patients of all ages and work with other medical professionals, including physicians and nurses.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for respiratory therapists was expected to increase by 12% from 2014-2024. This anticipated growth is due to the increasing elderly population and advances in respiratory treatments. Besides hospitals, other employers for respiratory therapists are healthcare services and physician offices.

Salary Information

As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of a respiratory therapist was $57,790. Most of these professionals earned between $41,970 and $80,440 per year, according to BLS data.

You can enter the fast-growing field of respiratory therapy with as little as an associate's degree. Generally, you must complete a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care in order to become licensed. Successive certifications of CRT and RRT can be earned through the National Board for Respiratory Care and are widely accepted for state licensure.

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