There are several different certifications available for respiratory therapists. The minimum education level for certification is an associate's degree or two years of hands-on experience. Candidates can continue their education in order to qualify for specialization or simply to expand their knowledge and expertise.
Respiratory Therapy Certification
The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the credentialing agency for respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists can earn professional certification after completing an accredited education program and passing the NBRC exam. Most states require respiratory therapists to be licensed, and in many states, therapists must be certified before applying for licensure. The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care accredits associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in respiratory therapy.
The NBRC offers several certifications in respiratory therapy. The entry-level credential of Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT) is awarded to those that have a minimum of an associate's degree or two years of hands-on respiratory care experience and pass a certification exam. A Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) can be earned with a minimum of an associate's degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited school and successful completion of an NBRC exam. The NBRC also offers advanced levels of these credentials, the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and the Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT), both of which require passing advanced exams and completing advanced education and experience.
Diploma and Degree Program Information
Diploma programs are not the norm in respiratory therapy. Although a few exist at for-profit institutions, most programs that seek to train respiratory care technicians and therapists are associate's or bachelor's degree programs. Those already in the profession and seeking advancement or more in-depth knowledge of the field, may enroll in master's degree programs in respiratory care.
Associate's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
The Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Respiratory Therapy is the most basic degree held by practicing respiratory therapists. This 2-year degree prepares graduates to take the CRT exam. Program coursework may include basic medical terminology, respiratory anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and therapeutic equipment use and survey of respiratory therapies.
With advanced course credit and experience, a CRT can apply for the RRT exams. Because of their additional qualifications, RRTs typically earn higher pay, says the American Association for Respiratory Care.
Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
Although most bachelor's degree programs take four years to complete, students who have earned a related associate degree may be able to transfer credits and complete the program more quickly. A bachelor's degree program in respiratory therapy incorporates advanced respiratory therapy skills. Coursework includes pathophysiology, critical care, pediatrics, public health, patient assessments, cardiopulmonary functions and administration.
Master's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
A graduate degree in respiratory care is designed to train CRTs and RRTs for leadership positions in the field. Some programs can be completed in one year. Courses include ethics, leadership and a review of respiratory care advancements. Master's degree programs may have specialization options in areas, such as education, therapeutics, administration and clinical research.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Respiratory therapists earned an annual median wage of $60,280 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and could expect 21% job growth during the 2018-2028 decade. The BLS advises that those with bachelor's degrees or certification should have the best opportunities. On the other hand, respiratory therapy technicians earned an annual median salary of $51,210 in 2018. From 2018-2028, the BLS predicted a major job decline of 57% for these professionals.
Those interested in a career as a respiratory therapist or respiratory therapy technician have a number of educational options available to them. At the minimum, they should complete an associate's degree or obtain two years of hands-on experience so that they can become certified. Beyond that, a bachelor's degree or a master's degree can open doors for specialization or give students the knowledge needed for advanced certification.