How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Earn

Are you on the lookout for a career that's stable, challenging, and rewarding all at the same time? Do you want your chosen profession to offer you multiple growth opportunities and a lot of variety in the job you do on a day-to-day basis?

If those are exactly the thoughts going through your head when evaluating careers, then we have a profession that's just the right fit for you – respiratory therapy.

The Job: Respiratory therapists (RTs) or respiratory care practitioners evaluate, treat and provide care to patients who are suffering from breathing disorders or cardiopulmonary diseases under the direct supervision of physicians. The job allows them to work with all types of patient populations ranging from infants born prematurely to elderly folk. They are responsible for all diagnostic procedures, therapeutic treatments and emergency care for respiratory problems.

On a day-to-day basis, a respiratory therapist may interview patients, conduct limited physical examinations, carry out diagnostic procedures, recommend treatment, evaluate patients in therapy, perform chest physiotherapy, provide ongoing care to patients on life support systems, educate families of patients with respiratory disorders, and respond to emergency situations like drowning, stroke, heart attack, etc.

Training: Typically, a two-year Associate respiratory therapist degree is required to become an RT. Respiratory therapist programs are available at colleges, universities, med schools, vocational training institutions and the Armed forced. Some schools also offer distance learning degrees in respiratory therapy.

A respiratory therapist degree usually involves coursework in human anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, and math. Students are also required to study topics related to respiratory therapy procedures, diagnoses, equipment, patient assessment, critical care, etc.

Most respiratory therapy programs include a practicum section, wherein students are required to complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours in a healthcare environment.

Licensure: Whether you complete your respiratory therapist degree on campus or through distance learning, you will require a license to practice as an RT in all the U.S. states except Hawaii and Alaska.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers two certifications to RTs that meet specific criteria – the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The RRT credential is required for supervisory and intensive-care positions.

In addition to the credentials awarded by NBRC, respiratory therapists also have to maintain a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Advancement: RTs enjoy multiple advancement opportunities, but they may have to complete an advanced respiratory therapist degree for professional growth. Respiratory therapists with advanced skills and experience may move into:

  1. Critical care roles
  2. Management positions
  3. Equipment manufacturing companies
  4. Faculty position in a respiratory therapy school

Compensation: According to the May 2012 data of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wages of respiratory therapists were $55,200. The middle 50 percent earned $54,280 per annum, while the lowest 10 percent earned $39,990 per year and the highest 10 percent earned $73,410 per year.*

Colleges, universities and professional schools were the top-paying industry for this profession offering RTs annual mean wages of $66,450.** Location wise, California was the top-paying state providing RTs an average annual income of $67,970.***

Outlook: The Department of Labor has projected employment of respiratory therapists to grow at a much faster than average pace through 2018. The increase in demand is in part spurred by substantial growth in the number of middle aged and elderly people who are susceptible to cardiopulmonary diseases.

** Ibid.
*** Ibid.