The Scoop on Respiratory Therapists

With the population growing and the "baby boomers" retiring we have more and more need for specialized health care in America.

One of these specialties is Respiratory Therapy. Respiratory Therapists work with folks on their breathing and service all different demographics and work with all sorts of different medical professionals. 23,000 jobs are expected to be created in this field alone between 2006 and 2016. That's not bad odds when you're looking to get into a medical profession.

What in the World Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

Respiratory Therapists (or Respiratory Care Practitioners) work with patients who have problems with their lungs, lung capacity and overall breathing. If you were working as a Respiratory Therapist your job would include testing and treating a wide variety of cases and use a wide variety of methods. You may need your patient to breathe into a machine to measure their lung capacity or you may need to read over blood test results to see how much oxygen is in the patient's blood.

You would also be responsible for providing therapies that help the patient breathe more effectively AND for counseling them on how to do the treatments you recommend at home. After treatment you would also be charged with keeping up with a patient's records and monitoring their progress. Occasionally you would consult with a Doctor who has sent a patient to you, but typically you are doing all the work on your end.

After treatment you would be responsible for keeping up your equipment and making sure that all your patients are accounted for on a daily basis (usually this requires a lot of time on your feet.)

What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)

Training for a career in Respiratory Therapy can take many routes. You may want to go to college (because you promised your Auntie Sue) and get a Bachelor's Degree (4 years) in Respiratory Therapy. You may not have that much time so you could get an Associate's Degree in Respiratory therapy from a college or vocational school. Some hospitals and large health clinics also provide this type of training on site.

Once you have gotten your schooling you will need to be licensed in your state to practice as a respiratory therapist. (You're also required to have current CPR training.) Typically, getting a license from the State Medical Board means that you must pass a written exam and a "skills" test to prove that you know what you're doing. After passing the tests you receive your license and you're ready to go.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) also provides "certification" programs that can make you a more desirable applicant. Becoming a CRT (certified Respiratory Therapist) or an RRT (Registered Respiratory Therapist) looks even better on your resume when you go looking for a job. These certifications are not required, but they are very helpful when you're looking for work.

How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?

79% of Respiratory Therapists work in Hospitals, so it's a safe bet that you should start your job search at a hospital. However, nursing homes need Respiratory Therapists for their patients. Large health clinics may need Therapists and even some Doctor's offices may want to keep a Respiratory Therapist on hand instead of sending their patients to the hospital all the time.

If you wanted a better chance to choose your own hours and work at your own pace you could basically work for yourself and do therapy for many different people and institutions all at once. This would give you the chance to own your own business (in essence) and to fit your work around your family life. Some smaller areas may not have the need for an "independent" Respiratory Therapist, but in larger metropolitan areas you may have an easier time working for many different people.

Advancement in the profession requires an advanced degree (Master's Degree usually) in Respiratory Therapy. The Master's is required to become a RRT and is also required if you want to become a manager of Therapists or a supervisor in a hospital. Sometimes you could take that Master's Degree and use it to get into respiratory research or even to teach respiratory therapy at a medical school or college. The bottom line is that you have choices - you don't have to spend your whole career making people blow into a machine.

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Respiratory Therapists Overview

Respiratory Therapist Salary:$52,200
Job Prospects:A-
Education after high school:4 years
# Employed in US:103,870
% Who work Part Time:15%
Physical Difficulty:+ + +
Intellectual Difficulty:+ + +
Emotional Difficulty:+ + +

The Pros of being a Respiratory Therapist

  • The training has many different options
  • You can train quickly if you want
  • There are many different places to find work, but hospitals are stable employers
  • You might be able to work for yourself

The Cons of being a Respiratory Therapist

  • You may have to work with premature babies (which might be emotionally difficult)
  • This job requires a lot of time on your feet
  • You are doing all the leg work and keeping up with everything with little to no assistance.