Respiratory Therapist Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
A respiratory therapist's median annual salary is around $56,730, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about the career outlook to decide if becoming a respiratory therapist is right for you.
View available schools

Respiratory Therapy Careers: Pros and Cons

Respiratory therapists treat patients with severe breathing problems, but may also provide related care for victims of emergency situations, such as heart attack or trauma. Consult the following chart to learn more about the pros and cons of this career.

Pros of Becoming a Respiratory Therapist
An associate degree is the minimum education requirement*
Excellent job stability**
Faster-than-average job growth (19% from 2012-2022)*
One of the top ten jobs with the greatest return on educational investment***

Cons of Becoming a Respiratory Therapist
May need to obtain a bachelor's degree for some career opportunities*
Most states require licensing (all except Alaska)*
May be exposed to infectious diseases*
Night and weekend hours may be required*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association for Respiratory Care, ***U.S. News and World Report.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a respiratory therapist, you provide care to patients who suffer from cardiopulmonary conditions. You may provide breathing treatments, perform diagnostic procedures, test a patient's blood oxygen levels, measure oxygen flow and consult with physicians about treatment plans. You may be exposed to dangerous gases and infectious diseases, but using the proper safety protocols can greatly reduce your risk of infection. You could work in hospitals, intensive care departments, emergency rooms, pediatric units, patients' homes or diagnostic centers.

Job Growth and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that nearly 119,410 jobs were held by respiratory therapists (www.bls.gov). A faster-than-average job growth rate of 19% was projected for the 2012-2022 decade. Growth in the elderly population and expansion of the field were expected to contribute to the growth.

The BLS reported that respiratory therapists earned a median annual wage of $56,730 in May 2014. Those within the 10th-90th percentile range earned $41,380-$78,230. The top paying industry was outpatient centers with an annual mean wage of $69,000.

Education and Training Requirements

An associate degree is the minimum education requirement to work as a respiratory therapist, but bachelor's degree programs are also available and may be preferred by some employers. Courses could include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, therapeutic procedures and patient assessment. You'll also be required by your program to gain supervised, clinical experience treating patients. You also must be licensed by your state, except in Alaska. Licensing requirements vary by state, but may follow the requirements set forth by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) for its certification options. The Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) designations offered by the NBRC are usually voluntary, but are often preferred by employers.

What Employers Are Looking For

Relevant experience is important to employers as was shown in March 2012 job ads. Employers also usually require applicants to already hold a license, professional certification and CPR certification before applying. Below are some more expectations expressed in the job ads:

  • A healthcare provider in Nebraska needed a graduate of an accredited respiratory therapy program who had at least one year of experience to work a 40-hour week with a weekend and holiday rotation schedule. State licensure, the RRT credential and CPR certification were required.
  • A Virginia pediatric healthcare provider wanted to talk with candidates who had 1-2 years of experience working with pediatric patients, ventilators and home medical equipment. The ideal candidate needed the CRT or RRT designation.
  • A healthcare provider in Nevada was looking for a respiratory therapist who had at least two years of experience, a clean driving record and valid driver's license. Candidates needed to be knowledgeable in various types of respiratory equipment. This position required delivering and setting up equipment in patients' homes and educating patients in their use. State licensure, professional credentials and CPR certification were also required.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Get Specialized

In addition to the CRT and RRT designations, the NBRC offers several specialty certifications. Areas you can specialize in include adult critical care, pediatric respiratory care and sleep disorders. Generally, you must already have earned the CRT or RRT credential to be eligible for the specialty certification exams. You may need experience in your specialty area as well. Specialty certification can demonstrate to employers that you have advanced knowledge in a specific area of respiratory therapy or in treating a specific patient population. This may give you an edge over other applicants when seeking jobs in certain hospital departments or at specialized facilities.

Alternative Career Paths

Perhaps you are reconsidering a career in respiratory therapy due to the multiple certification requirements, or maybe you want a career that has an even higher projected job growth. If these things concern you, then you may want to consider a related career in physical therapy, radiation therapy or cardiovascular technology.

Physical Therapist

If you'd rather help people suffering from physical disabilities rather than breathing problems, consider becoming a physical therapist. As a physical therapist, you'll provide care to patients who have medical issues that affect their ability to move or limits their range of motion. After completing a physical therapy training program, which is usually a doctoral degree program, you must become licensed by passing the National Physical Therapy Examination or a similar state exam. You have the option of entering a residency after graduating from your program to become specialized. The BLS projected a job growth rate of 39% from 2010-2020, which means finding employment is likely in this field.

Radiation Therapist

On the other hand, if you're more interested in helping cancer patients, becoming a radiation therapist may be for you. A projected job growth of 20% between 2010 and 2020 means you're likely to be able to secure a job as a radiation therapist. In this field, you provide radiation therapy to patients suffering from cancer and other diseases. You'll need at least a certificate or associate degree in radiation therapy to get started, but most employers require an associate degree. In most states, you also need to meet state licensing requirements, which usually means passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam.

Cardiovascular Technologist or Technician

If your healthcare interest is treating heart and blood vessel conditions, you may want to become a cardiovascular technologist or technician. Typically, an associate degree is the minimum education required, but 1-year certificate programs are also available. There is no mandatory licensing or certification requirement, but voluntary certification is often preferred by employers. This field was projected to see a 29% job growth from 2010-2020 by the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
      • BS in Health Care Administration
  • Campus Locations:
    3. Lincoln Tech

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Assistant Technology
      • Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    4. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Abilene Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Administration
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Campus Locations:
    9. College of Health Care Professions

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Assistant-Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • MS in Nursing
  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

What is your highest level of education?

Lincoln Tech

  • Medical Assistant Technology
  • Medical Assistant

What year did you graduate High School / Receive GED?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Abilene Christian University

  • MBA - Healthcare Administration
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?