How to Begin a Professional Career as a Respiratory Therapist

How to Begin a Professional Career as a Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory Therapists: A Quick Look
Median Salary $55,870 per annum
Entry-level education Associate’s degree
On-the-job training No
Primary employers Hospitals
Number of positions (U.S.) 119,300
Job Growth (2010-2020) 19% (Faster than average)
New positions (2010-2020) +22,700

How to Begin a Professional Career as a Respiratory TherapistWhat Does A Respiratory Therapist Do?

Respiratory therapists assist and care for patients suffering from respiratory disorders as well as cardiopulmonary difficulties. Their patients can range from young or middle aged individuals with chronic breathing diseases like emphysema or asthma, to premature infants who have underdeveloped lungs, to elderly patients with lung disease. In addition to their regular duties, respiratory therapists may also be required to offer emergency medical care. Read more.


Respiratory therapists earn a median salary of $55,870 per annum, or $26.86 per hour. Read more.

Becoming A Respiratory Therapist

Most respiratory therapists are required to have least an associate’s degree from an accredited respiratory therapist program. Many respiratory therapists also have bachelor’s degrees. Click here to find out more about¬†How to Begin a Professional Career as a Respiratory Therapist -Read more.

See our list of the top respiratory therapist school & training programs

Job Outlook

The job outlook for respiratory therapists is very good, with a projected 19% job growth rate from 2012-2022. Read more.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

How much do respiratory therapists make? The annual median salary for respiratory therapists was $55,870 based on data gathered in 2012 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Workers in the top 10% earned $75,430 or more, while those in the bottom 10% earned $40,980 or less. Respiratory therapists are generally employed full-time. Those working in hospitals may be required to work evening, graveyard, or weekend hours, while those employed in nursing care facilities, in home health care, and physician's offices generally work standard 9-5 hours.

How To Become A Respiratory Therapist

The majority of respiratory therapists obtain a 2 year associate's degree in respiratory therapy. This is the minimum level of formal education required in most jurisdictions. In all states except Alaska, respiratory therapists must also apply for licensing from a state board. Respiratory therapists can also obtain 2 different levels of certification - CRT and RRT - which may be required by employers or the state board, though it varies state-by-state.

Educational Requirements

Respiratory therapist education can be obtained in a number of ways. While the majority of respiratory therapist positions require at least a 2 year associate's degree that includes classroom as well as clinical training, bachelor's degrees are also common. Note: The specific educational requirements required to become a respiratory therapist may vary state-by-state.


Certification is not always required to become a respiratory therapist. However, many employers only hire respiratory therapists with certification. Certification for respiratory therapists is governed nationally by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). The NBRC offers 2 different levels of certification: the first level is that of Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), and the second level is that of Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). In order to be certified as a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), candidates must:
  • Possess an associate's degree from an accredited respiratory therapist program, OR
  • Have completed the equivalent credits in a bachelor's program, and passed an exam.
In addition, all CRTs must pass the Certified Respiratory Therapist exam. The CRT exam costs $190 to write and candidates are permitted 3 hours to complete the exam. The exam itself consists of 160 multiple choice questions. To apply to be a Registered Respiratory Therapist, the candidate must:
  • Have been certified as a CRT, AND
  • Have an associate's degree in an accredited respiratory therapist program, OR
  • Have a 1 year entry-level associate's degree in an accredited respiratory therapist program, as well as 2 years of full-time supervised clinical experience, OR
  • Have completed a special certificate of completion in an accredited respiratory therapy program, OR
  • Have 4 years of supervised full-time respiratory therapy clinical experience, and at least 62 college credit hours including courses in: anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, math, and physics, OR
  • Have a bachelor's degree in a non-respiratory therapy related program, but with credits in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, math, and physics, as well as 2 years full-time supervised clinical experience as a respiratory therapist.
Upon meeting the above qualifications, the applicant must write and pass the Registered Respiratory Therapist examination. The RRT exam consists of 160 questions, as well as a 10 question simulation section, where the exam taker will have to describe their treatment approach to various treatment scenarios. A $250 fee is required to write the exam.


Respiratory therapists are licensed by a state board in every state except Alaska. Specific licensing requirements vary on a state-by-state basis, though the majority of states do require completing a licensing exam either on the state or national level.

Respiratory therapist job description

What is a respiratory therapist? Respiratory therapists attend to patients with breathing difficulties or cardiopulmonary disease. They work one on one with patients who have difficulty breathing, ranging from premature babies to the elderly. They interview, perform tests and work with a physician in order to develop a treatment plan for the patient. The respiratory therapist will implement the treatment plan and monitor the patient's progress. Respiratory therapists are also expected to provide emergency medical care in cases of heart attack, asphyxiation, or shock. Respiratory therapists must be patient, compassionate and possess strong communication and people skills. They must also be able to think and react quickly and be detail oriented.


  • Perform interviews, diagnostic tests, and examinations to help diagnose breathing and/or cardiopulmonary issues
  • Consult with physicians in order to develop a treatment program
  • Implement treatment programs, with the help of nurses and respiratory technicians
  • Supervise respiratory technicians
  • Keep records of the treatment progress
  • May be called upon to provide emergency care if patients are experiencing asphxiation.
Many respiratory therapists work for hospitals, but respiratory therapists also often work in nursing homes, doctors' offices, and even provide home health services where they care for and treat patients in their own home.

Alternative Job Titles

  • Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)

Job Outlook

Respiratory therapists have a very good chance of finding employment. Job growth is projected at 28% for the period from 2010-2010, which is significantly higher than the national average job growth across all jobs, which is projected at 10-19% during the same time period. At the moment, there are approximately 112,000 individuals employed as respiratory therapists in the U.S, although that number is projected to grow to 143,900 by 2020. The faster than average job growth is expected to be fueled largely by the growing elderly population, which will increase demand for respiratory therapists in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health services.

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