Respiratory Care as a Career

updated 10/26/12

Do you have what it takes to be a respiratory therapist (RT)?

  • Do you want to help people in their time of need?
  • Do you like working with technology?  Are you good in math and science?
  • Would you prefer working in a profession where there’s a lot of variety in the job?
  • Do you want to be able to choose the type of place you work in and the type of patients you work with?
  • Are you looking for a career with multiple opportunities for advancement—not just one?

If this sounds like you, our profession could be a great fit.  Check out the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) website. While you're there, be sure to watch the video clip called "Life and Breath" to take a good look at RTs on the job!

What RTs do

  • Diagnose breathing disorders and recommend therapy 
  • Interview patients and do physical exams 
  • Consult with physicians to recommend therapy changes
  • Analyze breath, tissue, and blood specimens
  • Manage ventilators and artificial airway devices 
  • Respond to Code Blue, disasters or urgent calls
  • Transport patients
  • Educate patients and families

Where RTs work

  • In hospitals right at the bedside, along with doctors and nurses in the ICU, ED, OR, NICU, and PICU
  • Long-term care
  • Pediatrics
  • Home care
  • Sleep medicine
  • Nursing homes
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Doctors offices and clinics
  • Transport
  • Case management, smoking cessation, disaster management, asthma management, education and more...

How respiratory therapists may enter the field and earn a license to practice

  • An associate’s degree from a community college
  • A bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university
  • A master’s degree from a post-graduate program

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) evaluates the competence of respiratory therapists.

CRT and RRT Exams

  • After graduation RTs may take an entry-level exam which, upon passing, leads to the credential Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT).
  • Subsequently they may take two more exams that lead to the advanced Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential
  • Specialty exams may also be taken in PFTs, neo-peds and sleep medicine

Respiratory therapy employment and financial outlook

  • According to a study from the AARC, the average new graduate earns $41,438 in their first year on the job.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median pay for a Respiratory Therapist in 2010 was $54,280 per year or $26.10 per hour.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for RTs will grow, faster than average, up to 28% over the next decade!
  • With demand rising, so are salaries!

Respiratory therapists have an opportunity to make a substantial difference in the outcome and education of patients with pulmonary problems.