Respiratory Therapist Overview
“We like to call ourselves the Rodney Dangerfield of health care,” says Timothy Myers, associate executive director of the American Association for Respiratory Care. “Not because we don’t get respect, but because people don’t know about respiratory therapists. We’re often confused with nurses. And people often look down on our work needing only an associate’s level degree for entry, but it’s a challenging profession that can actually be rewarding.”
Given the amount of growth expected in this occupation – 14,900 new positions by 2024 – now seems like a good time to end the confusion about what these health care workers actually do.
Respiratory therapists, or RTs, provide care for patients with heart and lung problems. They often treat people who have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and sleep apnea, but also those experiencing a heart attack or suffering a stroke. They perform diagnostic tests for lung capacity, administer breathing treatments, record a patient’s progress and consult with physicians and surgeons on continuing care. And Myers is right – respiratory therapy is a profession that only requires an associate degree to enter. But once you’re in, don’t expect to coast by on only two years worth of training. Even after completing their educational requirements, RTs work to stay steps ahead of evolving health care practices and treat the growing number of Americans struggling with heart and lung problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are more than 15 million adults in the U.S. living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. the name for conditions that limit air flow and cause breathing trouble. By 2020, all baby boomers will be 55 or older and will be more susceptible to medical conditions like COPD and pneumonia. Given future health care needs, this field looks promising for job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates employment growth of about 12 percent by 2024.
$57,790 Median Salary
0.6% Unemployment Rate
14900 Number of Jobs
Respiratory Therapists rank #21 in Best Health Care Jobs. Jobs are ranked according to their ability to offer an elusive mix of factors. Read more about how we rank the best jobs.
Respiratory Therapists are ranked:
In 2015, respiratory therapists made a median salary of $57,790. The BLS reports that the highest-paid made more than $80,440, and the lowest-paid earned less than $41,970. Although hospitals employ the most RTs, they don’t pay the best. Outpatient care centers pay therapists in the upper 60s. If you really want the best compensation, job hunt in California. The top-paying metropolitan areas are San Francisco, San Rafael and Vallejo.
75th Percentile. $69,470
25th Percentile. $48,750
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At a minimum, respiratory therapists need an associate degree, but the field’s elite also have a bachelor’s degree. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, there are 381 associate programs throughout the country, 57 bachelor’s degree programs and three master’s programs. Anticipate coursework in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and mathematics. These programs also offer training on performing diagnostic tests and patient assessment.
The next step in training is obtaining a license and certification. There are two certification levels that most RTs seek: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), which indicates your mastery of essential knowledge, skills and abilities as an entry-level therapist, and Registered Respiratory Therapist, or RRT. An RRT credential signifies a more advanced level of knowledge. “In today’s market, people are looking for advanced practice clinicians, and therefore, there’s a movement for employers to really push for the RRT credential,” Myers says. “We’ve basically told our grads when coming in the door that they had to achieve their RRT within a year of employment.”
Specialists have other certifications to consider, including the Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist credential, or the Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention Respiratory Care Specialist credential.
Average Americans work well into their 60s, so workers might as well have a job that’s enjoyable and a career that’s fulfilling. A job with a low stress level, good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted and earn a higher salary would make many employees happy. Here’s how Respiratory Therapists job satisfaction is rated in terms of upward mobility, stress level and flexibility.
Upward Mobility. Below Average
Opportunities for advancements and salary
Stress Level. Above Average
Work environment and complexities of the job s responsibilities
Flexibility. Below Average
Alternative working schedule and work life balance