Respiratory Therapist Programs

Respiratory therapists spend their days helping patients breathe better. These professionals assist people of all ages using specialized equipment and tools. Hopefuls attend respiratory therapist trade schools and must get certified and licensed in order to practice. Many work in a hospital setting. However, individual clinics and other healthcare businesses also hire respiratory therapists.

Education & Training

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Attending a respiratory therapist trade school involves spending several years earning either an associates or a bachelor’s degree. Students gain medical knowledge in subjects like anatomy and physiology. Afterward, prospects will need to take the required tests that prove they possess the skills for the job.

Salary

The pay rate for a full-time respiratory therapist is between $40K and $80K per year. The average wage is $60K, with experienced employees earning more.

Those who choose to work at larger facilities often make more money.

Below are wages and salary by state.

Area Name Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Alabama $27.08 $56,330.00
Alaska $42.54 $88,490.00
Arizona $33.75 $70,210.00
Arkansas $29.07 $60,460.00
California $46.23 $96,150.00
Colorado $35.79 $74,430.00
Connecticut $36.82 $76,590.00
Delaware $36.84 $76,630.00
District of Columbia $41.46 $86,250.00
Florida $33.04 $68,710.00
Georgia $36.25 $75,410.00
Hawaii $40.93 $85,140.00
Idaho $32.02 $66,610.00
Illinois $33.50 $69,670.00
Indiana $31.70 $65,930.00
Iowa $30.71 $63,870.00
Kansas $32.63 $67,870.00
Kentucky $29.04 $60,410.00
Louisiana $30.19 $62,790.00
Maine $32.49 $67,570.00
Maryland $38.03 $79,100.00
Massachusetts $40.36 $83,940.00
Michigan $31.60 $65,720.00
Minnesota $37.50 $77,990.00
Mississippi $27.34 $56,870.00
Missouri $31.37 $65,240.00
Montana $31.55 $65,620.00
Nebraska $31.65 $65,840.00
Nevada $39.97 $83,130.00
New Hampshire $37.26 $77,490.00
New Jersey $41.09 $85,480.00
New Mexico $31.05 $64,590.00
New York $43.95 $91,410.00
North Carolina $32.06 $66,690.00
North Dakota $33.18 $69,010.00
Ohio $33.43 $69,540.00
Oklahoma $32.30 $67,180.00
Oregon $39.33 $81,800.00
Pennsylvania $32.81 $68,230.00
Puerto Rico $13.33 $27,730.00
Rhode Island $34.94 $72,680.00
South Carolina $32.17 $66,910.00
South Dakota $27.33 $56,840.00
Tennessee $29.09 $60,510.00
Texas $35.54 $73,930.00
Utah $34.11 $70,960.00
Vermont $34.34 $71,430.00
Virginia $33.53 $69,730.00
Washington $41.41 $86,130.00
West Virginia $29.17 $60,670.00
Wisconsin $34.28 $71,300.00
Wyoming $31.98 $66,520.00

Occupation:Respiratory Therapists (SOC Code291126); Period:May 2022
source: data.bls.gov

On top of salary, staff members receive a number of perks. Other respiratory therapist benefits often include:

  • 401K
  • Paid vacation
  • Health insurance
  • Bonuses
  • Paid sick days
  • Overtime

Career Overview

What Is Respiratory Therapy?

Respiratory therapy involves assessing and treating problems with the lungs. Staff members look over medical charts and come up with ways to improve a patient’s breathing. When necessary, the worker gives medication and any other treatments.

Depending on where they work, a typical day for a respiratory therapist can be quite different. In emergency rooms, employees often move quickly from one room to another to help people. In a regular hospital or elder care setting, a respiratory therapist may have a set amount of daily patients with scheduled appointments.

Using respiratory therapy equipment is an important part of the job. Workers suction excess fluids out of airways and give medications that make breathing easier. On top of this, specialists help with intubation, perform CPR, and monitor progress to see if additional treatment is necessary.

Some workers choose a specialty to focus on. A respiratory therapist can obtain a certification for emergency medicine. Geriatrics, pediatrics, and care for adults are also options. Each has some pros and cons, and deciding on which path to pursue depends on each individual trainee.

Job Duties


Respiratory therapist duties involve many different things. Each patient requires unique care. Having the ability to discern which treatments are best is a critical part of this job. Some employees may need to be able to flex their priorities in order to address emergency situations.

Respiratory therapist careers require workers to juggle many patients at once. A person might have pneumonia in one room, while someone in the next might be dealing with an asthma attack. The respiratory therapist must balance the workload while taking the time to treat each patient correctly and update their charts. Other common duties include:

  • Responding to emergency pages
  • Developing treatment plans with physicians
  • Teaching patients exercises and at-home treatment procedures
  • Conducting diagnostic tests
  • Analyzing blood in a laboratory

What Types of Skills Should Respiratory Therapists Possess?

In order to be safe and effective, workers use a number of respiratory therapist skills. Listening and communication are vital in order to understand a patient’s needs. Employees need enough strength and stamina to remain standing for long periods and also need to be comfortable with exposure to and handling bodily fluids.

What Types of Equipment Do Respiratory Therapists Use?

Learning about the proper use of equipment is one of many important respiratory therapist requirements. Standard items include CPAP and BiPAP machines. Both ensure that a patient has enough airway pressure to breathe properly. Nebulizers help deliver medication to the lungs, while suction machines remove harmful material and fluids.

Why Do Respiratory Therapists Need the Ability To Work With People?

Patient care is the focus of a respiratory therapist career. Individuals on this path must like working with others every single day. Some people may be sicker or have different abilities than others. This means respiratory therapists need to have compassion and patience when administering treatments or teaching new techniques.

How Do Respiratory Therapists Find Work?

Checking job listings at hospitals and clinics are the main ways to find a respiratory therapist job. However, home healthcare services hire workers with the specialty as well. The qualifications for the position depend on the state, although a license and some hands-on experience are standard.

What are Useful Skills for People in This Field?

  • Interest in working with others
  • Strength to move patients
  • Ability to express empathy and compassion
  • Knowledge of medications and standard dosages
  • Patience to help those with chronic illnesses
  • Expertise in physiology and anatomy
  • Physical stamina
  • Practice measuring lung capacity and administering other tests
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Capability to safely handle bodily fluids

Requirements for Respiratory Therapist Jobs

Students interested in this career must obtain a respiratory therapist degree. While an associate’s degree is enough in many cases, many learners opt to obtain their bachelor’s. Prior to attending college, aspiring respiratory therapists should focus on learning math and science, particularly biology, while still in high school.

Schools that offer respiratory therapist degrees prepare students for taking licensing exams. Courses include chemistry and anatomy. Throughout their program, learners gain the skills needed to use equipment and provide medication and treatments.

Once a student receives a degree, the next step is to obtain a certification to practice. Some states require that hopefuls pass a test to become licensed as well. Often employees must renew licenses and certifications every five years to continue working.

Hours & Working Conditions

Working in medical facilities leaves employees exposed to bodily fluids and they may have to handle them frequently. Professionals who choose emergency medicine may also endure long, hectic days running between patients. Respiratory therapists should expect to be flexible with their breaks and schedules to meet the needs of those in their care.

However, conditions will vary based on the specialty and workplace. For example, staff members at smaller clinics may enjoy a more relaxed pace than those in hospitals. These employees usually assist only one patient at a time.

Where Do They Work?

Based on their chosen specialty, people with respiratory therapist training may find a job at:

  • Hospitals
  • Urgent care facilities
  • Physician’s offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Other specialty clinics

What are Respiratory Therapists’ Work Schedules Like?

Since hospitals need help to be available at any time, staff members in this field tend to have irregular schedules. Many often work 12-hour days. Employers schedule respiratory therapists for shifts on the weekends, evenings, and overnight. Start times and the number of hours can vary from week to week. Overtime might also be necessary on occasion.

Do Respiratory Therapists Have Any Other Options?

Those who enjoy helping patients may enjoy working in similar fields. For example, physical therapists and respiratory therapists use many of the same skills. With some extra training, hopefuls could also become athletic trainers or physiologists.

What are Alternate Careers for Respiratory Therapists?

People with respiratory therapy skills can go back to school and pursue other roles in the medical field. Nursing offers many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others. Occupational therapy is another rewarding career choice. These professionals help employees injured on the job heal so they can return to work.

Respiratory Therapist Career Q&A

A Q&A session with John Bailey, a respiratory therapist, who works at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, CA. John has been in the field for 2 1/2 years.

Q: Describe your average daily routine. What types of tasks are you expected to complete as part of your job?

A: My job mostly consists of aiding patients who are in any form of respiratory distress or who have any degree of respiratory difficulty. This includes patients with asthma, bronchitis or any other respiratory disease. My typical day consists of administering medication to patients to help dilate airways so they can breathe easier. When I’m in the intensive care unit I am working with patients who are critically ill and sometimes need to be on ventilators. When these patients are on a ventilator the Respiratory Therapist (RT) is continuously monitoring lung volumes and pressure. RT’s also aid doctors with bronchoscopies. Bronchoscopies are procedures that involve the use of a fiber optic scope. The scope is introduced into the airway of the patient usually through the nose and passed down the trachea into the lungs. While down there, the doctor can diagnose and sometimes treat pulmonary disorders.


Q: What do you like the most about being a respiratory therapist?

A: I enjoy the technical aspects of my job. I like being in the intensive care unit where I work with ventilators that are used to monitor and manipulate lung volumes and pressures. I also like to aid doctors with the bronchoscopies where I use specialized instruments such as forceps and brushes to help diagnose the patient’s condition.


Q: What do you dislike, if anything, about being a respiratory therapist?

A: I don’t like it when patients I’m working with come close to dying. It can also be very stressful dealing with difficult family members. Difficult family members can sometimes prevent me from doing my job effectively.


Q: What is your work environment like?

A: The work environment can be quite unpredictable. There are times when it’s slow. There are also times when it is very busy and stressful. For the most part it is usually steady and there is always work to do. Things at a hospital can change in a matter of seconds so it is always important to be prepared for chaos.


Q: What is your work schedule like?

A: Most respiratory therapists in the area where I am work 12 hour shifts three days a week. That is considered full time. My days start at 6 am and end at 6:30 pm. There is a half hour overlap between shifts for giving report on the patients. Vacation time is on an accrued basis. I usually accrue seven hours a pay period. Those hours go into a bank called PTO (personal time off) and then I can use them when I decide to take a vacation.


Q: Where did you get the training necessary for your job?

A: People can obtain a Respiratory Therapist license by first completing a program that is usually two years. There are also 18 month programs as well. Those programs tend to cost a little more but it is six months less time and they don’t normally require prerequisites. In my area (San Diego, CA) there is Grossmont college. It is a junior college. It requires about one to two years of prerequisites which include human anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Once the prerequisites are completed the RT program itself is two years. The school I attended was California College. It is a private school. It requires only a high school diploma or GED. It is an 18 month program. There is an entry level exam that must be passed which should be obtainable for the average person. The program itself is full time, five days a week, about five hours a day. When clinical rotations start you are required to work the 12 hour shifts three days a week. It is important to study and not let the program get ahead of you. For those 18 months all you will think about is respiratory care.


Q: Would you recommend your job as a respiratory therapist to another person?

A: I would recommend this job to other people as long as you don’t get grossed out easily. There are things about our job that does require dealing with bodily secretions. It is interesting, challenging, and sometimes fun. Being an RT is a technical job which I find exciting and mentally stimulating. There is always something new to learn about. It is a stable profession as well and a lot of security comes with working in health care.


Q: What is the next step in your career?

A: I think respiratory care is a great field to work in. I have learned quite a bit. It is a great stepping stone to use as you move on to other jobs. You can make a decent living from it but you’re not going to become rich. I myself plan on going back to school eventually to advance my education. But I will use respiratory therapy as a tool to further my knowledge.

What Is the Outlook for Respiratory Therapist Jobs?

There is a growing need for people in this field. Doctors try to prevent patients from needing to re-enter the hospital for treatable conditions. They often rely on respiratory therapists to achieve that goal. Hopefuls can expect to see more jobs in private practices, nursing homes, and emergency medicine as well.

Related Resources

Becoming a Respiratory Therapist in California
Becoming a Respiratory Therapist in Florida