Respiratory Therapy Programs by Degree Level

Respiratory therapists are licensed medical professionals test and administer treatments to patients with breathing difficulties or other cardiopulmonary conditions. Degree programs in this field are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels.

Essential Information

Associate's degree programs are designed to prepare students to work in entry-level positions. Students learn how to treat respiratory disorders through didactic coursework and supervised clinical practice. After graduation, students may pursue licensure and certification as respiratory therapists.

Bachelor degree programs in respiratory therapy are often for certified respiratory therapists who hold an associate's degree. Students in these programs learn to evaluate patients for respiratory diseases and provide emergency care. Clinical internships are required, and graduates may pursue Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification.

1Students seeking healthcare manager, teacher or researcher positions may pursue a master's degree in respiratory therapy and choose a specialization, such as health management, respiratory care or leadership.

Prerequisites for respiratory therapy programs are a high school diploma or GED; an undergraduate degree is required for admission to the master's program. Some associate programs may require prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores.

Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy

Completing an associate's degree program in respiratory therapy prepares graduates for entry-level positions that involve performing well-defined procedures under supervision, such as measuring patients' breathing capacity or pH level. Respiratory therapy programs at the associate's degree level may require four to six full-time semesters of classes and supervised clinical practice.

Typical courses in Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy programs are dedicated to understanding common respiratory disorders and how to treat them. The following are some of the typical courses found in this type of degree program.

  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient assessment

Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy

A 4-year bachelor's degree program in respiratory therapy provides the training necessary for students to perform more complex therapeutic procedures and to consult with doctors about treatment plans, as respiratory therapists.

Prerequisites for acceptance into a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy program vary. Typically, prospective students need an associate's degree in respiratory therapy and Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) certification. Transcripts and letters of recommendation may also need to be submitted with an application.

Coursework in a bachelor's degree is designed to prepare students to exercise independent judgment, evaluate patients for disorders such as emphysema or asthma and deliver emergency care. In addition to coursework, students participate in clinical internships. The following are a sample of the courses that are found in this type of degree program.

  • Patient evaluation
  • Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation
  • Critical care
  • Special procedures
  • Pharmacology

Master of Science in Respiratory Therapy

Master's level respiratory therapy programs prepare graduates for working in management, evaluating and developing technology for complex respiratory care procedures. Programs typically last between 2-3 years. Areas of specialization may include a wide variety of areas, including respiratory care, regulatory affairs, health management, clinical trial design and leadership.

Those who are planning on applying to a master's degree program in respiratory therapy typically need to submit a statement of purpose, resume and letters of recommendation with an application.

Depending on the area chosen, a Master of Science in Respiratory Therapy may be completed by designing and executing a research project or writing a thesis, in addition to passing comprehensive examinations.

  • Research design
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Advanced respiratory care

Popular Career Opportunities

Aside from working in hospitals or private practice, graduates many find a number of job opportunities working in hospital settings or nursing homes. The following are some additional career options for graduates with a master's degree in respiratory therapy.

  • Teacher
  • Researcher
  • Equipment supplier
  • Home health-care provider

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Career opportunities for respiratory therapists are expected to growth by 12% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, The median salary for a respiratory therapist was $57,790 in 2015, according to the bureau. The top 10% in the field earned wages of $80,440 or more.

Continuing Education Information

Licensure is required for graduates in order to work in the field. Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credentials are offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and are available to those who complete accredited programs. Many employers in the field also require respiratory therapists to have current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Graduates who have a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential can receive additional certification to become Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), which is offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

If you'd like to become a respiratory therapist, you have multiple degree options to choose from, ranging from the associate to master's level; each level may have a slightly different set of prerequisites, so check them closely before applying. Additionally, licensure is required to work in the field and can be obtained through the NBRC.

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