How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

As a respiratory therapist, you’ll be entering a rewarding career that’s in high demand.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Become a respiratory therapist and help patients breathe easier.

People of all ages, from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to elderly patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sometimes need help to catch their breath. Learn how to become a respiratory therapist, and you can improve the quality of life of people living with lung problems.

You may be surprised by the wide range of patients that respiratory therapists help as well as the many other medical professionals they assist. Find out more about the education, certification, salary, and job prospects you can expect as a respiratory therapist to see if it’s the ideal career for you.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist is a breathing specialist. As a respiratory therapist, your skills and talents will help patients recover from and manage acute and chronic lung disease.

Your patients may include people with severe asthma, COPD, emphysema, or bronchitis. Breathing and respiratory therapy is especially vital to lung cancer patients as they manage side effects from treatment and during recovery.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

Your job as a professional respiratory therapist will involve working with patients, surgeons, physicians, registered nurses, and medical assistants. You’ll also perform tests and administer therapy for patients with a variety of health conditions that limit their ability to breath. For example, you’ll administer treatments such as oxygen therapy and continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAPT) to help lung cancer patients after surgery.

Respiratory Therapist Duties

More specifically, as a respiratory therapist, you might be responsible for:

  • Assessing patients with breathing and cardiopulmonary disorders by conducting interviews and examinations.
  • Performing diagnostic tests that measure lung capacity and blood oxygen levels.
  • Working with a patient’s physicians to develop an individualized treatment plan.
  • Administering treatments that utilize a wide array of therapies and tools, like chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications.
  • Teaching patients how to use equipment and take medications to help them breathe.
  • Monitoring and recording patients’ progress.

Take a look at Monster’s respiratory therapist job description for more information about what respiratory therapists do.

Where Do Respiratory Therapists Work?

Respiratory therapists usually work full-time and may work nights, evenings, or weekends in hospitals and nursing care facilities that are open around the clock. Respiratory therapists may also work in a physician’s office or in an emergency room, administering life-saving treatment to victims of drownings and heart attacks or work on-call.

Once you’ve gained hands-on experience in a health-care setting, you might consider roles in which you work away from home. As a travel respiratory therapist, you’ll go where your expertise is needed to treat patients around the country or world. You can also be a flight respiratory therapist who accompanies patients on flights to make sure their cardiopulmonary function remains stable between health-care facilities.

Respiratory Therapist Education

To learn how to become a respiratory therapist, you’ll need a degree plus hands-on experience and licensing. While in high school, load up on science and math classes. After graduation, you can study for your respiratory therapist degree in an associate or bachelor’s program. You can find a respiratory therapist program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care at colleges and universities, at vocational–technical institutes, and in the military.

While completing respiratory therapist school, you’ll take classes that cover:

  • anatomy
  • physiology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • microbiology
  • pharmacology
  • math
  • therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests
  • equipment
  • patient assessment
  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

In addition to completing coursework, you’ll need to work 600 hours in a clinical rotation to gain supervised, practical experience in treating patients. Rotations consist of regular eight-hour days, up to three days a week.

Education is essential to your respiratory therapist career. If you’re looking for a way to pay for school, check out these respiratory therapist scholarships.

Respiratory Therapist License Requirements

Every state except Alaska requires that respiratory therapists be licensed for that state. In Alaska, national certification is recommended, although not required.

Exams are taken in each state and overseen by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Prerequisites for the exam include at least 62 semester hours of college credit that include classes in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, and mathematics.

The NBRC offers exams for six respiratory therapy specializations:

  • Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)
  • Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT)
  • Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT)
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Specialist (NPS)
  • Sleep Disorders Specialist (SDS)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

It can take up to four years to learn how to become a respiratory therapist. This includes earning your degree in respiratory care and becoming licensed.

How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Make?

According to Monster data, the median respiratory therapist salary is $27.23 an hour. Salaries range from $19.59 to $35.75, depending on where you work and your level of experience.

You can look up the average salary for respiratory therapists in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Respiratory Therapist Jobs

After you’ve completed your education and training, it’s time to find a respiratory therapist job that’s a good fit for you. To grab the attention of potential employers with your resume and cover letter, be sure to emphasize the characteristics that they’re looking for in candidates, especially compassion, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, problem-solving abilities, and math skills.

The respiratory therapy field is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow by 19% over the next 10 years—much faster than the average pace for all other jobs. That means it’s the perfect time to apply for respiratory therapist jobs on Monster.

Take a look at the five states that are hiring the most respiratory therapists:

The top five metropolitan areas are:

Breathe Life Into Your Career as a Respiratory Therapist

Now that you know how to become a respiratory therapist, take the first step in joining this growing and rewarding field. Upload your resume to Monster for free so recruiters can find you and put you on track for the best respiratory therapist jobs in your area.