A Guide To Respiratory Therapist Schools & Degree Programs

Respiratory therapists have a bright job outlook in the United States, with the employment rate for this profession expected to increase 21 percent by 2018. This job growth will be driven primarily by a steadily aging population of baby boomers.

Currently, there are 442 accredited respiratory therapy schools across the country that individuals can choose for their respiratory therapy education.

 Requirements for AdmissionWhile requirements will vary between institution, generally speaking, high school students must have completed pre-requisite coursework in chemistry and biology. They should also have a minimum grade point average of 2.5.

These general education requirements are waived for students who have obtained a bachelor’s degree from any accredited U.S. university or college. Some subjects are strongly recommended before starting the program even though they are not prerequisites. These courses include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, physics and health. Student’s are advised to double check the pre-requisites of any prospective schools to ensure that their application is complete.

 AccreditationAccreditation for respiratory therapist schools are overseen by the following two organizations:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education
  • Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.

Program accreditation is very important for students who are preparing to take the Certified Respiratory Therapist exam. This licensure exam is administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care. Passing this exam helps a student gain the licensure they need to practice their profession in every U.S. state except Hawaii and Alaska.

Accreditation provides acceptable credit if students need to transfer schools, and employers place tremendous priority on hiring students who graduate from an accredited institution. Accredited programs offer employers the guarantee that they are hiring professionals who have the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of today’s health care settings.

 SpecializationsTo select the right respiratory therapist school, an applicant may want to consider the specializations offered by the institution. There are several specializations available at respiratory therapy schools in the U.S. today:

  • Anesthesia assistants
  • Asthma specialists
  • Neonatal pediatric specialists
  • Extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation
  • Cardiovascular perfusionists
  • Cystic Fibrosis specialists
  • Sleep disorder specialists
  • Surface and air transport specialists
  • Case management
  • Pulmonary research and science
  • Clinical specialists

Specializations such as asthma and cystic fibrosis are commonly offered at schools across America. However, certain specializations are only offered at bigger schools and universities. These include anesthesia assistant work and extra–corporeal membrane oxygenation that requires additional equipment and training for study.

 Degree ProgramsThere are a number of different degree options a prospective respiratory therapist can choose from. Applicants should decide which path best suits their needs and career aspirations.

There are four educational paths and degree options offered in U.S. respiratory therapy programs:

Certificate in Respiratory TherapyCertificate programs in respiratory therapy are short programs of study that last one year or even less. Courses included in this program include patient monitoring and clinical practice.

Although some private institutions do offer certificate/diploma programs in respiratory therapy, they are not standard. Graduates with a certificate in respiratory therapy are not qualified to sit for licensure exams unless they also complete an associate’s degree.

Associate Degree in Respiratory CareThis is an entry level program for students who are going into respiratory therapy. Typical topics include respiratory pathophysiology, anatomy and physiology, respiratory care principles and procedures. This program usually lasts for two years. It includes two semesters of academic preparation focusing on general education as well as 14 months of clinical training in respiratory care.

After completing the program, students are awarded an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S) in Respiratory Care. They are also qualified to take the NBRC-WLE, NBRC-ELE and NBRC-CSE certification exams. They can apply for a license to practice as a Registered Respiratory Therapist.

Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory CareThis is a four year academic program that details the science of respiratory care. Students who complete this degree receive advanced training in respiratory therapy and also graduate with a credential that can be useful as a further step towards teaching, managerial and research positions.

The Bachelor’s program offers students the opportunity to study subjects usually not covered in an associate’s degree program such as mechanical ventilation, respiratory therapy pharmacology, cardiopulmonary physiology and neonatal respiratory care. Students also complete additional clinical sessions, courses and laboratory work.

Students who finished this program will receive a bachelor’s of science in respiratory care. They can take the NBRC-ELE, NBRC-WRE and NBRC-CSE exams, and they can also apply to be licensed as a respiratory therapist.

Master’s Degree in Respiratory TherapyRespiratory therapists interested in a career in teaching, research, or managerial positions can pursue graduate studies in respiratory care. Students may have the option to choose a specialization, such as therapeutics, administration, clinical research, and education. Master’s programs can typically be completed in 1 year.

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