Study Respiratory Therapy: Bachelor, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in respiratory therapy? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and respiratory therapy associate's and bachelor's degrees.
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Respiratory Therapy Associate's and Bachelor's: Degrees at a Glance

Respiratory therapists play a vital role in the healthcare system by providing care for patients suffering from a variety of respiratory complications. Respiratory therapists work with patients of various ages and cultures in a range of healthcare settings. Though helping patients can be rewarding, you'd be exposed to infectious diseases in this career. If you have a passion for helping others and are intrigued by human anatomy and respiratory function, an associate's or bachelor's degree program in respiratory therapy may be right for you. A degree alone will not prepare you for a career in the field; you'll also have to earn state licensure, and some employers prefer that you earn certification on top of that.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job availability for respiratory therapists was expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 28% from 2010-2020. In 2011, the BLS reported that respiratory therapists had a mean annual salary of approximately $56,000.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as respiratory therapist technicians or respiratory therapists People who want to work in leadership or supervisory positions as respiratory therapists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Respiratory therapy technician ($47,000)*
- Respiratory therapist ($56,000)*
- Respiratory therapist ($56,000)*
- Respiratory therapist manager (unavailable)
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 3-4 years full-time without associate's degree or 2 years full-time after associate's program
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60-90 credit hours in coursework
-Clinical rotations
- Roughly 120 credit hours in coursework
- Clinical rotations
Prerequisites - High school diploma or equivalent
- Criminal background check
- Drug test
- Associate's admission exam required by some schools
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Criminal background check
-Drug test
-Bachelor's admission exam required by some schools
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

Associate's degree programs in respiratory therapy are designed to provide you with a strong grasp of the foundations of respiratory therapy, including patient care and monitoring, cardiopulmonary diagnostics, respiratory technology and more. Upon graduating with your associate's degree in respiratory therapy, you'll be prepared to pursue entry-level careers in the field as a respiratory therapy technician or respiratory therapist in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and patients' homes.

Pros and Cons


  • Respiratory therapy is a fast growing field.
  • A wide variety of work environments are available for respiratory therapists with associate's degrees.
  • Respiratory therapy can be an emotionally rewarding field since you'll help others daily.


  • Tuition costs can be high in comparison with the average salary for respiratory therapists. Some associate's programs cost as much as $47,000 in total.
  • Respiratory therapists often work long hours; 12-hour shifts are not uncommon in this field.
  • There is a possibility of exposure to infectious diseases in this field.

Courses and Requirements

When pursuing your associate's degree in respiratory therapy, you'll take a wide variety of courses in patient care and health sciences. When researching associate's programs in respiratory therapy, be sure to seek out programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). This will ensure that your degree meets licensing requirements.

Some courses you might take in an associate's program include:

  • Pulmonary anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Respiratory therapeutics
  • Patient assessment
  • Lung expansion therapy

In addition to the required courses, you will also complete clinical rotations throughout the duration of the program. These rotations will give you the opportunity to learn in a real work environment alongside licensed respiratory therapists. Clinical rotations will also provide you with the chance to demonstrate what you have learned in class in a hands-on manner.

Online Availability

Associate's programs in respiratory therapy are available to students online. If you're interested in earning a degree while still having the option to work or make your own schedule, an online program may be a good fit for you. Online programs offer similar coursework to campus-based programs, but still require clinical rotations for graduation. Your program may assist you in finding hospitals, clinics and other places for you to conduct your rotations. Just be cautious when looking for schools as non-CoARC accredited online institutions exist; earning your degree from one may make finding a job after graduation difficult.

Stand Out With This Degree

Volunteering at a hospital, clinic or similar healthcare environment will give you valuable work experience that you can put on your resume. Even if you volunteer for only a few hours a week, you can observe other workers and gain experience working with patients outside of your clinical rotations. Your employer may eventually offer you paid work if you leave a good impression.

Being fluent in another language is another way to increase your marketability, especially in the healthcare field where you will regularly work with patients who may not speak English. Taking classes in a foreign language while working on your degree could be a wise decision. This can also open up the possibility to apply for home healthcare jobs working with non-English speakers.

Bachelor's Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

Bachelor's programs in respiratory therapy are generally designed for students who want to work in management or leadership positions within the field. It is important to note that some bachelor's programs are targeted toward students who only possess a high school diploma or GED, while others focus on continuing education for associate's degree holders. Upon completion of a bachelor's program, you will be able to apply modern healthcare ethics to your work, exhibit an advanced grasp of the foundations of interpersonal communication, effectively manage a team of respiratory therapists and provide patients with high-quality care.

Pros and Cons


  • A bachelor's degree could qualify you for a leadership position supervising a team of other respiratory therapists.
  • The additional school time will provide you with more education and experience working alongside mentors before entering a career.
  • Clinical rotations will give you experience in diverse settings to make it easier to choose where you want to work after graduation.


  • A bachelor's degree is not required for most positions in this field.
  • A bachelor's degree does not guarantee higher pay as a respiratory therapist.
  • Respiratory therapy can be a stressful and emotionally demanding field.

Courses and Requirements

The curriculum in a bachelor's-level respiratory therapy program is designed to provide students with advanced knowledge in emergency care, patient education, interpersonal communication, respiratory care techniques and team management. Some courses you might take while pursuing your bachelor's degree include:

  • Advanced interpersonal communication
  • Respiratory care management
  • Cardiopulmonary technology
  • Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • Pulmonary functioning

In addition to coursework, you may be required to complete clinical rotations to apply the concepts you learn in class to real-world situations. However, if you already have an associate's degree in respiratory therapy and are licensed, your program may be solely coursework-based and no rotations will be required.

Online Availability

Bachelor's degrees in respiratory therapy are available online. Online programs are recommended for students who already have associate's degrees or for students who are concerned with fitting school into their life schedules. As with associate's programs, be weary of non-accredited institutions when researching potential programs you want to attend. Coursework is similar to on-campus programs, and in-person clinical rotations may be required.

Stand Out With This Degree

Obtaining additional certifications from an accredited agency or organization can make you more desirable to potential employers. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers several certifications for respiratory therapists in specialized areas, including critical care, pediatrics and sleep disorders. The organization also offers general certifications, including the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) designations. To earn certification, you generally must have graduated from an accredited program and pass an exam. The CRT credential is the most basic level of certification and may be required for more advanced or specialty certifications.

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