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Begin a New Healthcare Career as a Respiratory Therapist

If you have a strong desire to work directly with patients in the field of medicine or healthcare, there are a number of different career opportunities that you can choose from. However, many hands-on positions, aside from nursing, require extensive formal education and even years of medical school attendance.

Quick Facts: Respiratory Therapist Industry
Median Pay:   $52,270 per year | $25 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Associate's degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   130,000

Respiratory Therapist Occupations:

  • Respiratory therapists$56,730
  • Respiratory therapy technicians$47,810

An exception to this rule is the career of respiratory therapist. Discover more about what this position entails, how to become a therapist in the respiratory field, the average salary for this career and what kind of job growth is predicted in the field for the future.

Understanding What Respiratory Therapists Do

In the most general sense, respiratory therapy is the field that involves helping anyone who has trouble breathing. The two major areas of assistance include chronic respiratory conditions, which might include things like emphysema and asthma, or emergency situations where patients can't breath due to a heart attack or choking.

On a daily basis, a therapist in this line of work deals with a steady flow of patients, helps develop treatment plans, consults with physicians about diagnoses and conducts tests to see progress and lung capacity.

This job involves working with patients almost constantly, and it can be tiring. However, helping someone clear their lungs or use a new form of ventilation is incredibly rewarding, and that kind of fulfillment is a rare thing for many professionals.

Educational Requirements and Certifications For Respiratory Therapists

In every state, respiratory therapists can only be licensed if they have a minimum of an associate degree in the field of respiratory therapy. However, most respiratory therapists have a bachelor's degree, which is a four-year program.

As you might expect, the best-paying jobs and supervisory positions tend to go to those with a bachelor's degree. Whatever program is chosen, students will cover key topics like chemistry, anatomy, clinical practices, respiratory care, cardiopulmonary disease and diagnostic testing.

Thanks to accredited online colleges, students can opt to earn their degree in this field online, which may be more convenient for those who have a busy schedule, family obligations or a job.

After graduating with a degree in this field, aspiring respiratory therapists should seek out a certification from the NBRC, or National Board for Respiratory Care, before seeking employment. The NBRC offers two types of certification in the field: The CRT and the RRT, both of which many employers look for when hiring.

Typical Salary For This Profession

If you are serious about pursuing this medical career, they you may want to learn more about the average salary for respiratory therapists in the United States. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for this position is $55,870 per year.

Those who earn the highest salaries in the field tend to have bachelor's degree, certifications, several years of experience and diagnostic positions rather than assisting positions in physician's offices.

Attributes of the Most Successful Respiratory Therapists

As mentioned above, respiratory therapists spend much of their day dealing directly with patients. For that reason, the most successful people in this field are outgoing, or at least have the patience to communicate well with others and put their patients at ease.

Compassion is also vital, as patients may be struggling immensely when they come in for lung testing or need ventilation of their lungs. Finally, since there are so many patients, the best respiratory therapists are organized and can keep patient files separate and distinct in their mind. Of course, it also helps to have strong math and science skills, which will make earning a degree in the field much simpler.

Where Respiratory Therapists Work

The overwhelming majority of respiratory therapists work in public or private hospitals. They may work in emergency care, they may work in a respiratory wing or they may split their work between the two locations as needed.

Those therapists who work in hospital environments may have irregular schedules with occasional odd shifts or long hours, which is typical among many hospital employees in varying fields. Some respiratory therapists, however, may have more traditional schedules working for private physicians or in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Job Growth Predictions in the Field

When picking a career for the future, it is important to think about trends in the industry and whether or not that specific career will continue to be in demand five years or even a decade from now.

The healthcare industry, as a whole, is predicted to grow significantly thanks to an aging population and rising rates of obesity, which brings with it additional medical complications. For respiratory therapists in particular, the BLS predicts a 19 percent increase in job growth over the next decade.

This translates to approximately 22,700 new jobs in the United States, which does not include all the job openings created by retirees or those who switch careers. This amount of growth is a positive forecast for the industry, and it should be encouraging to anyone who wants to pursue this field in the future.

Similar Occupations to Consider

While respiratory therapists can command lucrative salaries and are predicted to enjoy impressive job security over the next decade, some students might be interested in similar occupations that are still within the same field.

Just a few of the positions that you might want to consider include that of pharmaceutical representative, respiratory research technician, ventilation equipment associate, radiation therapist and speech language pathologist.

Becoming a respiratory therapist is a wonderful career goal to have, and the work is both challenging and fulfilling for the right candidate. To start on the way towards this patient-driven medical profession, a degree in the related field is often the perfect choice. Explore your options to prepare for a health care career.