A Career Guide For Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory therapy technicians and respiratory care practitioners, work in health care facilities helping care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. They monitor, evaluate and provide treatment under the supervision of a physician. Respiratory therapists follow specific respiratory care procedures in order to care for each specific patients needs.


Respiratory therapists have the primary responsibility for all respiratory care therapeutic patient treatment, as well as diagnostic procedures. Many common tasks that must be performed are administration of oxygen, administering of drugs to the lungs, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, use of mechanical ventilators and monitoring the patient’s cardiopulmonary systems and lung function.

Respiratory therapists often have to perform chest physiotherapy to remove any mucus from the lungs, making it easier for the patient to breathe. When a patient is having difficulty getting oxygen into their blood, a therapist may have to increase the amount of oxygen being given and prescribe other forms of action such as aerosol medications to increase the effectiveness of the treatments.

Therapists commonly have to place patients who are not breathing well on their own onto ventilators to deliver oxygen into the lungs. This procedure is done by inserting a tube into the patients’ trachea. The tube is connected to the ventilator and set to a rate and volume of oxygen concentration to allow the oxygen to enter the patients’ lungs.


Respiratory therapists make median annual earnings of approximately $47,430. The middle 50% earned between $40,850 and $56,150, while the lowest 10% earned less than $35,250 and the highest 10% earned more than $64,200. These numbers are just the average but this rate can change depending on your location, type of healthy care facility you work for and how many years of experience you have working as a respiratory therapist.


Currently, there are over 122,000 respiratory therapists working in health care clinics, hospitals, private offices and home-based care. Statistics show that this number will rise to about $145,000 by the year 2016. This is a 23,000 difference making it a 19% change.

Education & Training

Becoming a respiratory therapist takes extensive education and training, as well as certification to begin working in health care facilities. The minimum educational requirement is an associate degree to begin work, but a bachelor or master degree is necessary for advancement. All states with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska require that their respiratory therapists be licensed.

Training is available at the postsecondary level at numerous universities, medial schools, armed forces and technical institutes. Important areas of study in respiratory therapist programs are pathophysiology, human anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology, and pharmacology. Many courses in this field deal with therapeutic procedures, diagnostic tests, and proper use of equipment, patient assessment, clinical guidelines, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, pulmonary rehabilitation, disease prevention and proper medical bookkeeping.

Licensure & Certification

Along with a required license as a respiratory therapist, a certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is necessary by most employees. In order to get a license, you must pass a number of requirements from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and be 18 years of age or older. The board will give credentials to those who graduate from an entry-level program that is accredited by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).

The final step in becoming certified is to complete two separate examinations. The first exam that must be taking is the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). This exam entails 140 questions and several didactic questions. This examination must be passed in order to continue with a future as a respiratory therapist. Once this exam is successfully passed, the second examination that must be taking is the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) exam. This includes a written portion of 100 questions as well as a clinical simulation portion with 10 case studies where the respiratory therapist will make decisions based on fictional patients. Each state is also responsible for requiring their own license for their respiratory therapists.

With only a CRT, a therapist is only allowed to perform basic tasks such as ABG’s and breathing treatments. A registered RRT, on the other hand, is allowed to perform these basic tasks as well as advanced treatments such as using a ventilator and performing more critical procedures. Most health care facilities are looking to hire RRTs and most intensive care specialties and supervisor positions require an RRT.


For a total of 2 years in a physical therapist program that includes tuition, books, fees and the cost of courses, the approximant cost averages about $85,000. Of course, this will vary depending on the institution or university that you decide to study. Licensure costs will vary depending on your location but the average cost is $100 for the application fee and another $100 for a renewal fee that is required every two years.


About 79% of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, usually in respiratory care departments as well as anesthesiology and pulmonary medicine. The remaining 21% remain in physician offices, rental firms that provide respiratory equipment for home-based use, nursing homes, and private home health care.

Job Outlook

More job opportunities will be available in years to come in hospitals and an increased amount will begin being available in home health care as well as other various health care settings. Respiratory therapists will continue to be greatly needed in order to care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders.