Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)

A respiratory therapy specialist is responsible for helping those who suffer from respiratory and pulmonary conditions and disorders. Their daily tasks include examining patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders, performing diagnostic tests like lung capacity and nasal capabilities, and treating patients for chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications. In addition to monitoring, recording, and communicating patient progress, respiratory therapists consult with physicians to draft and develop patient treatment plans and teach clients and patients about medication, equipment, and prognostic treatment plans.

Apart from these essential duties, respiratory therapy specialists work collaboratively with respiratory physicians and other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive the best care possible. Certified respiratory therapy specialists are a class of healthcare workers that have come into high demand. There is currently an ever-growing need for the specialized, certified skill set of respiratory therapists. These jobs exist at all levels of healthcare—especially as awareness of pulmonary health and the relationship between pollution and the environment increases, so too will the demand for specialized respiratory care.

Respiratory therapists test the lung capacity of patients by guiding their breath into diagnostic instruments as well as taking blood samples. These samples are submitted for tests and help pulmonologists and their teams best treat patients with specific respiratory conditions. Respiratory therapists are physiotherapy experts, removing mucus from patient lungs, treating patients with cystic fibrosis, and offering relief from pain and discomfort. RRTs might also work in a home-care capacity, educating patients and their families on how to use ventilators, life-support systems, and other medical devices related to pulmonology. They are also experts in supporting patients attempting to quit smoking and those dealing with sleep apnea and other respiratory disorders.

In some cases, respiratory therapists are employed in an on-call capacity. In this role, they inspect ventilating equipment, check homes for environmental hazards, and discuss ways to alleviate symptoms with family members suffering from respiratory difficulties.

Read on to learn more about respiratory therapy, including a step-by-step guide on how to become a part of this growing, exciting industry.

Respiratory Therapist Specialization & Career Types

Respiratory therapy is used in combination with many other healthcare approaches to address the highly-specialized needs of a wide variety of patients suffering from respiratory conditions. Given the age and lung condition of patients, respiratory professionals might specialize in a handful of ways. There are a number of respiratory therapist specializations and career types available for prospective respiratory professionals. They include:

  • Long-term care
  • Neonatal-pediatrics
  • Surface & air transport
  • Pulmonary rehab
  • Polysomnography
  • Respiratory education
  • Critical care
  • Respiratory case management
  • Respiratory home care
  • Pulmonary diagnostics
  • Respiratory therapy management

Admissions Requirements for Respiratory Therapy Programs

In terms of admissions requirements for students interested in careers in respiratory therapy, a background in the health sciences, healthcare administration, human health, wellness, or psychology are prime places to begin. University bachelor’s programs in respiratory therapy typically require completion of approximately 120 credit-hours of undergraduate work in respiratory therapy or a related field. Most respiratory therapy professionals hold associate degrees; however, a bachelor’s degree can position students favorably to increase their earning potential.

Respiratory Therapy Program Accreditation & Certification

The vast majority of respiratory therapy programs are accredited by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC). The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) oversees most programs in the country for respiratory therapy. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is also a wonderful resource and accredits domestic programs, too.

To ensure one’s program of interest is accredited, all aspiring respiratory therapists are encouraged to ensure the school is at least regionally accredited by an organization recognized by the Commission for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

On-Campus Respiratory Therapy Degree Programs

Boise State

This bachelor of science degree program in respiratory care from Boise State can be taken online or on campus. It provides the skills, knowledge, and best practices needed for professionals to excel in the field.

Coursework for this undergraduate program includes instruction in respiratory care, pulmonology, health science, physiology, and anatomy. Notably, Boise State’s Department of Respiratory Care is among the best in the country. Their expert faculty of pulmonologists, oncologists, and radiation therapists pool their industry knowledge to guide students on their path to a career in respiratory therapy.

  • Location: Boise, Idaho
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Society for Simulation in Healthcare
  • Tuition: $252 per credit-hour over 16 credits, $367 per credit-hour under 16 credits

Concorde University

This associate degree program in respiratory therapy from Concorde University can provide prospective respiratory therapy professionals with the knowledge they need to enter the field. This AAS degree program trains students in critical study areas, including clinically-based coursework. The program focuses on respiratory education, critical care, respiratory home care, anatomy, respiratory therapy management, physiology, and other related aspects of the field.

Online Respiratory Therapy Degree Programs

Oregon Institute of Technology

The Oregon Institute of Technology is a public polytechnic university located in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The school offers a BS degree in respiratory care that focuses on pharmacology, disaster preparedness, advanced neonatal respiratory care, introductory statistics, chemistry, pediatric respiratory care, and mechanical ventilation. Courses in composition and mathematics are available. The program is designed for those who hold the registered respiratory therapist credential from the NBRC.

  • Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $257 per credit-hour

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, also known as UNC Charlotte, is a public university located in Charlotte, NC that offers a BS degree in respiratory therapy. This fully online program requires 44 credits of courses in areas such as pharmacology, disease management, health outcomes, respiratory quality assessment, healthcare applications, and information technology. Students can choose a clinical area of focus in administrative, population-based, or the clinical discipline itself. Please note that students must hold an associate degree, an RRT credential, and be licensed in the state of North Carolina to enroll in this degree completion program.

  • Location: Charlotte, North Carolina / Online
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care
  • Tuition: $158 per credit-hour

How Long Does it Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

To become a respiratory therapist requires a minimum of one year of schooling, with up to four years if pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Expect an additional six months to one year of study to become AARC-certified, plus a variable number of years in clinical respiratory therapy experience depending on the type of professional certification sought.

How To Become a Respiratory Therapist – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a respiratory therapy specialist, as mentioned above, should take a minimum of about one year, and up to as many as seven if prospective respiratory therapy professionals take longer to gain clinical experience, industry experience in real-life settings, or an undergraduate degree.

Step 1: Graduate High School

As a high school student, a focus on the subjects of the health sciences, physiology, biology, natural sciences, and healthcare will help to build a solid foundation for courses of study in respiratory therapy.

Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree (One to Four Years)

Earn a one-year respiratory therapy diploma or a two-year associate’s degree in respiratory therapy.

Aside from the more general education requirements, gaining a four-year bachelor of science (BS) in respiratory therapy science is ideal, but degrees in health services and healthcare administration can also provide the necessary skills. Regardless, certification as a respiratory therapist will be required before a student can claim the title.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience (One Year or More)

One way to advance a career as a respiratory therapist is to gain work experience in the healthcare industry itself. This should help you to prepare for certification and more advanced positions, which are typically necessary to qualify for positions in upper management or as clinical directors.

Step 4: Become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (Timeline Varies)

The AARC offers two principal credentials for respiratory therapists: the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Consult the AARC for more information on how and when to recertify as per state and federal regulations.

What Do Respiratory Therapists Do?

Respiratory therapists interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders, perform diagnostic tests like lung capacity and nasal capabilities, and treat patients for chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications. They also monitor, record, and communicate patient progress.

In addition to these duties, respiratory therapists consult with physicians to draft and develop patient treatment plans and teach clients and patients about medication, equipment, and prognostic treatment plans.

Respiratory Therapist Certifications & Licensure

The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) oversees most programs in the country for respiratory therapy. The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) is the main credentialing organization for respiratory therapy.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) reports that respiratory therapy is projected to add up to as many as 27,900 new jobs between 2018 and 2028. The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for a respiratory therapist is typically an associate degree, though on-the-job and postsecondary training or a bachelor’s degree in a related field can increase earning potential.

As with most fields, a healthy combination of industry experience and the proper university credential will set up prospective respiratory therapists to go far.

Number of respiratory therapists employed in the U.S. (BLS 2019): 134,000

  • Average annual salary: $62,500
  • 10th percentile salary: $43,750
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,280
  • 90th percentile: $83,520
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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