Pros and Cons of Becoming a Respiratory Therapy Technician
Respiratory therapy technicians work under the supervision of respiratory therapists in healthcare settings to help people who have breathing difficulties. Becoming a respiratory therapy technician can be a solid career option, but you should know what to expect so you can decide if this career is right for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Respiratory Therapy Technician|
|Good average salary (approximately $48,800 in May 2014)*|
|High school diploma or vocational school certificate sufficient in many cases**|
|Employment is expected to increase by 9%-13% from 2014-2024*|
|Wide variety of job duties (assessing treatments, maintaining equipment, interviewing patients, keeping records, etc.)**|
|Cons of Becoming a Respiratory Therapy Technician|
|Possible exposure to infectious diseases*|
|Work can be physically taxing because it requires being on your feet for long periods of time*|
|May have to work nights and weekends*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerOneStop
Essential Career Information
Respiratory therapy technicians work as part of a team along with respiratory therapists and physicians. They may administer treatments to patients, such as aerosol medications, and perform physical chest manipulations. Educating patients and their families on at-home care is also part of the job. You may help manage patients on ventilators with artificial airways, and you'll need to keep detailed records of the care you provide.
Respiratory therapy technicians can work in hospitals or long-term care facilities. They may also work for home health agencies and travel to patients' homes to deliver and set up equipment. Working nights, weekends and holidays is common. The job can be physically strenuous; you'll be on your feet most of the time, and you may have to lift and turn patients. Exposure to infectious diseases is a risk.
Job opportunities are strong for respiratory therapy technicians: the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online said employment was expected to increase by 9%-13% from 2014-2024, which is faster than the national average across all occupations. Like most medical fields, this strong growth is likely due to the aging population.
The median annual salary of respiratory therapy technicians was approximately $47,810 in May 2014, the BLS reported. The lowest-paid ten percent made about $31,260 or less, while the highest-paid ten percent made about $69,800 or more. Respiratory therapy technicians who worked in physician's offices made the most, with an average salary of about $63,180.
What Are the Requirements?
You can prepare for this career while you're in high school by taking courses in mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics and health. Respiratory therapy technicians must have at least a high school diploma or GED, but most have some postsecondary training at a vocational school, college, university or through the military. Respiratory therapy programs, which are typically the same programs that prepare students to become respiratory therapists, include courses in microbiology, human development and anatomy in addition to instruction in respiratory therapy. You'll also get a lot of hands-on experience treating patients in a supervised setting. Certificate and associate's degree programs are the most common programs available.
Certification and Licensing
Most states require that respiratory care practitioners, including technicians, hold licenses. This usually requires completing an accredited training program and passing a state or professional certification exam. Requirements vary by state.
Respiratory therapy technicians need to have strong math skills in order to figure out dosage amounts for medicines. You'll need to possess good communications skills for speaking with patients and other members of the medical team. In addition to technical knowledge, successful respiratory therapy technicians should have concern for others and show patience. You should be able to provide emotional support to the patients and their families.
What Employers Want
According to job postings, the main requirement to become a respiratory therapy technician is to have the necessary training and certification. Many employers mention good communication skills as an important quality, as well as good teamwork skills. Here are some examples of job postings from real employers in April 2012:
- A hospital in New Jersey was seeking a respiratory technician with an associate's degree and a state license to provide all aspects of respiratory care. Certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and basic life support (BLS) certification were also required. However, candidates with bachelor's degrees or higher were preferred.
- In Pennsylvania, a hospital needed a respiratory technician and encouraged new graduates to apply. Applicants were required to be able to handle standard and non-standard respiratory care procedures. An associate's degree, state credential and national certification were required.
- In Georgia, a hospital needed a respiratory therapy technician who either held a state license or was in training to do so. Other requirements included a high school diploma and CPR certification. The technician would administer respiratory care treatments, draw blood and maintain machinery.
How to Stand Out in the Field
In addition to training and experience, employers may ask for employees who hold national certification. The NBRC, the most recognized credentialing agency, offers the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) designation for beginning respiratory therapists and technicians. Applicants must have an associate's degree in respiratory therapy or equivalent coursework in a bachelor's degree program and pass an examination. The NBRC's next level of certification is Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). To earn this credential, applicants must already hold the CRT credential and pass both written and clinical examinations.
One way to distinguish yourself in this field is to specialize in a certain area of care. The NBRC offers several certifications in specialty areas such as pediatrics, adult critical care and sleep disorders. You must hold CRT or RRT certification and pass an examination in your specialty area in order to earn specialty certification.
Other Career Paths
If you like caring for people, but want more variety in your job duties or would like to specialize in another area of health, you can become a registered nurse. An associate's degree could qualify you to get started in the career, but many employers prefer someone with a bachelor's degree or higher. You'll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN before you can begin working. The BLS predicted that jobs would grow by 26% for nurses from 2010-2020. According to the BLS, the median salary for a registered nurse was nearly $66,000 in May 2011, so you are likely to enjoy a higher salary than you would as a respiratory therapy technician.
Another growing healthcare occupation that offers a higher salary is radiation therapy. You may choose this career if your specific healthcare interest is cancer rather than respiratory problems. Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases by focusing radiation on a certain area of the patient's body. You can complete a 12-month certificate program, but most employers prefer someone with an associate's or bachelor's degree. You'll probably need to be licensed by your state and hold certification from the American Registry of Radiology Technicians (ARRT). The BLS predicted that jobs in this field would increase by 20% from 2010-2020. The median annual salary for radiation therapists was almost $77,000 in May 2011.