Becoming a Respiratory Care Technician: Salary & Job Description

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A respiratory care technician earns a median salary of about $46,000. Is it worth the education and licensing requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a respiratory care technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Respiratory Care Technician

Respiratory care technicians help physicians better diagnose and treat patients who are having difficulty breathing or suffering from cardiopulmonary disorders. . Here is a list of pros and cons that can help you decide whether or not this occupation is suitable for you:

Pros of Becoming a Respiratory Care Technician
Most positions only require a 2-year degree*
Good earning potential for education requirements (median salary of about $47,810 in 2014)**
Variety of work environments (hospitals, patients' homes, care facilities)**
Faster-than-average job growth (projected 17% increase in jobs from 2012-2022)**
The chance to save lives**

Cons of Becoming a Respiratory Care Technician
Usually on feet for long periods of time**
May be exposed to infectious diseases**
May have to work on nights and weekends**
A license is required in all states except Alaska**

Sources: *Multiple Job Postings from June 2012, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Similarities and Differences between Respiratory Care Technicians and Therapists

A respiratory care technician, also called a respiratory therapy technician, works under the supervision of a respiratory therapist. According to job postings for technicians and the job description for therapists as stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals in both occupations perform very similar duties. The fundamental difference between the two occupations is that therapists have more authority, which generally requires a higher degree of responsibility.

Job Responsibilities for Respiratory Care Technicians

Some job duties that you would have as a respiratory care technician include performing diagnostic testing to evaluate the severity of respiratory disorders, setting-up and using medical devices (ventilators, aerosols and other oxygen equipment), monitoring patients and reporting findings to the respiratory therapist. You may also update the records of patients' treatment plans and take some blood samples and analyze the results. If you notice a patient is not having the right response to a treatment, you'd be responsible for changing the treatment.

Salary and Job Outlook for Respiratory Care Technicians and Therapists

According to the BLS, the lowest-paid 10% of respiratory therapy technicians earned less than $31,260, while the top-paid 10% of technicians earned more than $69,800 in 2014. As for respiratory therapists, the BLS found the lowest-paid 10% of respiratory therapists earned less than $41,380 and that the upper-earning 10% of these professionals made more than $78,230 as of 2014. It also predicted that respiratory therapy technicians would see a very nice 17% increase in jobs from 2012-2022.

What Do Employers Look for?

Job postings for respiratory care technicians show that most employers require that candidates have the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. The CRT credential is for entry-level applicants, while the RRT credential is for those who are already CRTs. These certifications are also required for respiratory therapists. The CRT and RRT designations are offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and typically require an associate's degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

In addition to certification, all states except Alaska require you to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary between states, but it may be cheaper to become licensed as a respiratory care technician than as a respiratory therapist. You'll need some postsecondary education; a certificate or an associate's degree should be sufficient to meet the education requirements.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Although an associate's degree is usually required for this occupation, a few postings revealed that you may gain employment with only a high school diploma. Most job postings didn't list the minimum number of years of experience required, but a few requested at least 1 year. Following are some job postings for respiratory care technicians that can give you an idea of what real employers were looking for during June 2012.

  • A New Jersey hospital was seeking a candidate to provide care for inpatients and outpatients. This employer requested a 2-year degree and basic life support certification, but candidates with a 4-year degree and advanced cardiac life support certification would be preferred. Graduation from an approved respiratory care program, a CRT or RRT credential and state licensure were also required.
  • A sleep medicine facility in Virginia advertised for a respiratory care specialist to perform sleep diagnostic studies. This position required a CRT or RRT certification and the ability to use essential diagnostic equipment.
  • A university hospital in Michigan was looking for a candidate to assist patients in using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines, perform tests and monitor patients. A high school diploma was required for this position, but the employer preferred an associate's degree.
  • A Pennsylvania medical center was seeking a candidate with at least one year of experience, a CRT certification, a state license and an associate's degree from an accredited respiratory therapy program. This employer also preferred candidates with education, experience or certification in adult and pediatric care. Job duties included performing various diagnostic care activities and maintaining equipment.

How to Stand Out in the Field

You can gain a competitive advantage in this field by completing a Bachelor of Science degree program in respiratory care or respiratory therapy. You may also want to consider a Bachelor of Applied Science in Cardiopulmonary Sciences, which deals with cardiovascular medicine. Schools offer these programs online, but you might have to have your RRT credential before you can enroll.

In addition to earning a 4-year degree, you can stand out by obtaining the Pediatric Advanced Life Support certification. This certification is offered by the American Heart Association (AHA) and requires you to pass an exam, skill tests and scenarios. The AHA also offers a variety of training courses that can show employers you're taking an extra step to add to your respiratory therapy knowledge.

Other Career to Consider

Cardiovascular Technologist or Technician

If you're more interested in a career that deals with heart conditions, then consider becoming a cardiovascular technologist or technician. As a technologist, you would assist physicians with invasive procedures, such as a catheterization or open heart surgery. You would also help with non-invasive procedures, such as electrocardiogram (EKG) testing. However, non-invasive procedures are usually handled by technicians rather than technologists.

You generally need an associate's degree in cardiovascular technology to work as a cardiovascular technician or technologist. The BLS reported that those who primarily perform EKG testing typically receive on-the-job training. During the decade of 2010-2020, employment of these professionals was expected to increase by 29%, according to the BLS. As of May 2011, the BLS found that the median salary earned by cardiovascular technologists and technicians was approximately $51,000.

Radiologic Technologist

If you've ever had a fascination with seeing the internal structure of the human body, but you don't want to deal with blood, then becoming a radiologic technologist could be a fitting option. In this position, you may specialize in various non-invasive procedures, such as x-rays, mammograms, computer tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans. Your job would also involve assisting radiologists in reading diagnostic test results.

You can work in this field by completing a certificate program or an associate's degree program in radiologic technology. According to the BLS, an associate's degree is the most common path of entry into this occupation. Additionally, most states may require that you obtain a certification or license to practice. The certification exam is administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or the state in which you're planning on working. You should have good job security in this profession, because employment was projected to increase by 28% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. The BLS found that radiologic technologists earned a median salary of about $55,000 in 2011.

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