Respiratory Therapy Degrees and Careers

respiratory therapy degree and career

Great Degrees for Portable Careers: Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy is a specialized healthcare field where practitioners are trained in pulmonary medicine. Respiratory therapists are trained to assess, treat, and monitor patients with disorders of the cardiopulmonary system.

Respiratory Therapists help people who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. They provide emergency care to patients suffering from a wide variety of pulmonary distresses including heart attacks, drowning, and shock. People who have sleep disorders and infants who are born prematurely also benefit from the practice of respiratory therapy.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

The vast majority (an estimated 80%) of respiratory therapists are employed by hospitals and other acute care centers. A typical day for a respiratory therapist employed by a hospital or acute care center may include:

  • Diagnosing lung and breathing disorders
  • Doing physical exams and interviewing patients to determine what kind of treatments are best for their condition
  • Consulting with physicians to recommend appropriate therapies based on patient evaluation
  • Analyzing breath, tissue, and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases
  • Managing medical devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own
  • Educating patients and their families about lung and breathing disorders so patients can maximize recovery

Where Do Respiratory Therapists Work?

Respiratory therapy is provided in nearly all healthcare venues including, but not limited to:

  • Acute care hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Wellness centers
  • Rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities
  • Convalescent and retirement homes
  • Diagnostic laboratories
  • Sleep disorder centers
  • Patients’ homes for home care services

Some respiratory therapists choose to not work directly in health care but instead work a variety of jobs such as with medical equipment manufacturers, respiratory care marketing positions, and in educational institutions.

A degree in respiratory therapy can even provide opportunities to work for yourself by starting your own business or working as a consultant.

Job Growth Outlook for Respiratory Therapists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates employment of respiratory therapists is will grow by approximately 20 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is much faster than the average growth for all occupations.

Thanks in part to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, an increase in the elderly population of the US will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and other disorders that impact lung function and require the skills of a respiratory therapist.

Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy

An Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy is a great starting point for those interested in health sciences.

Respiratory therapist education includes knowledge of the scientific principles, cardiopulmonary physiology, and biomedical technology. Respiratory therapy education trains students to effectively assess, educate, and treat patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.

Respiratory therapists are able to successfully develop and implement effective care plans, protocols, and disease management programs. Respiratory therapists are required to practice under supervision of a physician yet are able to exercise considerable autonomous judgment when providing respiratory therapy to patients.

Earning an Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy can set one on a successful career path and prepare for further education and certification.

Jobs With Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory Therapy Technicians

Provide respiratory care under the direction of respiratory therapists and physicians. Average annual salary: $51,000.

Respiratory Therapist

Assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders. Average annual salary: $65,000.

Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Students can earn a Bachelor’s in Respiratory Therapy and choose to focus on a wide variety of specialties from elder care to pediatrics and even business management. Respiratory therapists with advanced education and experience are well qualified to participate in clinical decision-making, patient education, development and implementation of protocols and treatment plans, health promotion, disease prevention, and disease management.

Jobs With Bachelor’s in Respiratory Therapy

Postsecondary Teacher

Instructor for respiratory therapy classes. Average annual salary: $80,000.

Registered Respiratory Therapist Practitioner

Offering respiratory therapy through an independent practice. Assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders. Average annual salary: $84,000.

Health Services Manager

Plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers. Average annual salary: $101,000.

Respiratory Therapist Certification

If you are seeking to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or the advanced-level Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), make certain your school’s program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.

Upon successful completion of degree requirements, students at accredited schools will be eligible to take the national TMC exam. Upon passing this exam students can earn their entry-level Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential (currently 49 states require licensure).

With a high qualifying score students may also be eligible to sit for the NBRC Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE) which is required for the advanced-level Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential.

Schools With Respiratory Therapy Degree Programs

Ready to start your degree in Respiratory Therapy? Check out these great programs available at our partner schools.

Lone Star College

Offers an Associate of Applied Science Degree for Respiratory Care Therapist. This program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.  Lone Star College does not participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

New England Institute of Technology

Offers an Associate in Science Degree in Respiratory Care. This program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.   The New England Institute of Technology participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Southern Connecticut State University

Offers a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy. This is an Associate of Science-to-Bachelor of Science program (AS-to-BSRT), designed for students that already hold an Associate degree in the field of respiratory care and an RRT certification.

The AS-to-BSRT program is designed to enhance the student’s professional career in respiratory therapy with the necessary skills and knowledge to further pursue professional leadership roles in clinical practice, research, education, marketing, and management. Southern Connecticut State University participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

University of Cincinnati – Online

Offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy. This University of Cincinnati program holds provisional accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. The University of Cincinnati participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

*All average annual salaries adapted and calculated from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. For more information click here.



About the author

+ posts

Born in SoCal yet raised Tampa, Florida - Leah earned her undergraduate BA in Liberal Studies from the University of Central Florida. Leah earned her MA in the MALAS at San Diego State University, while also completing a graduate teaching certificate in English for Secondary Education. An avid traveler, she has visited more than 60 countries. With the birth of her son Spencer in 2012, Leah embarked on her biggest adventure (yet) as parent and Coast Guard wife.