respiratory therapist insigniarespiratory therapist with patient

Want To Become A Respiratory Therapist? A Guide To Education, Salary, And The Best Locations To Work

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By Johnny Bevers

A respiratory therapist (RT) is a type of practitioner of health who is specialized in treating people with disorders that affect their cardiopulmonary system.  Some of the common ailments are those with asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, cardiovascular disorders and other forms of trauma.  Respiratory therapists work beneath general administration of a major professional such as physician or nurse practitioner whom is usually associated with intensive care, operating rooms, outpatient clinics, pulmonary diagnostic laboratories and other specialization locations such as a rehabilitation center.

Among several of these settings, a respiratory therapist will provide care and are often in charge of commencing and monitoring life support to patients.  This also includes assistance during the transporting of patients either by ground ambulance or in the air before they arrive at the hospital.

Respiratory therapists are indeed specialists and instructors and in the outpatient setting they teach to/at asthma clinics, sleep disorder diagnosticians in sleep clinics and ancillary clinical staff in pediatric clinics.  In addition, they may also service as clinical providers in cath-labs and cardiology clinics.

Plainly stated, a respiratory therapist has a single but crucially important focus, which is to help patients breathe. Without oxygen, the body cannot function properly and an RT’s job is to make that happen.  Perhaps surprising to some, the RT field is actually quite sought-after more than people imagine.


Respiratory-Therapist in action

For one to work and legally operate as a respiratory therapist in America, you will need an Associate Degree.  The majority of programs that train students in this field will offer Bachelor’s degrees.  Employers will often give preference to candidates who have graduated from one of these programs.

Respiratory therapist programs are found at colleges, vocational schools, medical schools and in the Armed Forces.  Various science-oriented courses will need to be utilized which are comprised of microbiology, physics, human anatomy and physiology.  Students will also have to learn about diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, patient assessment, medical record keeping and insurance reimbursement.


1.  Earn your high school diploma.

Our advice is to take all college entrance-required courses in senior high school.  The acceptance of a two year higher educational program will be needed, and the suggested courses to take are biology, health and health occupations, math and science. Earning knowledge and great scores in these courses will start to build a firmer foundation for the medical field.

2.  Seriously consider registering into a quality respiratory therapy program.

There have been nearly 400 entry-level and advanced therapy programs accredited by the (CAAHEP) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs in the United States. One should find a school that offers studies in respiratory therapy.  There are several two-year institutions that offer respiratory therapy degrees.  There are a few different sources in which to acquire some RT training such as in hospitals, vocational or technical schools and even full training through a branch in the military.

3.  Complete a two-year RT training program which will result in you at least getting an associate degree. 

Once completing classroom and hands-on training, you will become eligible to take an accrediting exam.

4.  Take the National Credentialing Exam offered through the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC).

An exam must be taken and passed to earn the credential for respiratory therapy. For those individuals who can graduate from the entry-level or advanced programs which are accredited by the NBRC will be qualified to take an exam with the objective to earn their (CRT) Certified Respiratory Therapist license.

5.  Gain and maintain your Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certificate.

Before graduating, most RT programs will require that their students earn their CPR certificate.  Employers will also demand a potential employee to have this certification as well before they are hired.

6.  Procure a license if the state you are in has made it a requirement.

If you happen to be in a State where you are required to have a license, then it is not of much concern being as you will normally acquire a license right after you graduate.



* Entry level certification

The NBRC has proclaimed that certification is to be at the entry-level.  Those who are advanced counterparts will be overseeing and supervising the individuals who are accredited as Certified Respiratory Therapists and Pulmonary Function Technologists.

* Advanced Practice Certification

The NBRC is currently maintaining that the advanced credentials for advanced certification are a Registered Respiratory Therapist and/or Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist.  The NBRC declares that anyone holding this certification is deemed “registered.”


female respiratory therapist with small child

The NBRC has what they label as, sub-specialties for the designations of respiratory therapists.  A Certified Respiratory Therapist and a Registered Respiratory Therapist are both entitled to remain in a position to receive supplementary credentials, but the CRT will still require the unchanged guidance and direction from the RRT in the health-related methods.

A Sleep Disorder Specialist or (RRT-SDS and CRT-SDS) is a certification that is acknowledged by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for the duty of medical scoring in sleep studies.  A Neonatal and Pediatric Specialist or otherwise known as (RRT-NPS or CRT-NPS) is a respiratory therapist that works in advanced neonatal and pediatric centers and units.  The last type is an Adult Critical Care Specialist.  This registered professional is only accessible to the RRT (RRT-ACCS) that is a lung-related and hemodymanic type of specialist at the intensive health care in adult practice.


respiratory therapist performing breathing treatment

The salaries of respiratory therapists vary from state-to-state but the median h

ourly pay rate goes from a range of $18.15 – $35.77.

The salaries of RTs annually from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will be displayed here based upon years of experience. Again, keep in mind that the results will vary depending on the State:

* RTs with under 1 year of experience – $29,087 – $55,652

* RTs with 1 – 4 years of experience – $24,850 – $59,507

* RTs with 5 – 9 years of experience – $35,802 – $70,472

* RTs with 10 – 19 years of experience – $30,161 – $71,247

* RTs with 20+ experiences – $44,557 – $71,011


  • California – $83,360
  • Connecticut – $73,670
  • New Jersey – $71,610
  • New York – $69,730
  • Nevada – $67,270
  • Hawaii – $66,890

Typically, respiratory therapists work a total of 3/twelve hour shifts per week. In turn, this provides them with four days off a week.


respiratory therapist with male patient

* Being a Respiratory Therapist is better than being a Registered Nurse but the market can be quite saturated depending on location.

* The chances of having to relocate to get a position as an RT are quite high.

* Because of a fairly high salary, being an RT is a great return on your investment.

* Learning to become an RT takes less time than most other jobs in the medical field.

* Because of the increasing senior citizen population, respiratory therapy will continue to be in demand.

* In emergency situations you will have to use critical thinking, but otherwise, there is no autonomy and no brain power to really use.

* The only advancement in being an RT is experience and salary, but nothing else.

The video below explains a day in the life of a respiratory therapist.

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