Respiratory Therapy Profession Facts:  according to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)

A Respiratory Therapist is a healthcare professional who:

  • Diagnoses lung and breathing disorders and recommends treatment methods
  • Interviews patients and performs chest physical exams to determine the appropriate therapy
  • Consults with physicians to recommend changes in therapy
  • Analyzes breath, tissue, and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gasses
  • Manages ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients
  • Responds to Code Blue or other urgent calls for care
  • Educates patients and families about lung disease to maximize recovery

Respiratory Therapists work in:

  • Hospitals giving breathing treatments to people with asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • Intensive care units managing ventilators that keep the critically ill alive
  • Emergency rooms delivering life-saving treatments
  • Newborn and pediatric units helping kids with conditions such as premature birth to cystic fibrosis
  • Operating rooms working with anesthesiologists to monitor patients breathing during surgery
  • Patient’s homes providing regular check-ups and home health care
  • Sleep laboratories helping to diagnose disorders such as sleep apnea
  • Skilled nursing facilities and pulmonary rehabilitation programs helping older people breathe easier
  • Doctor’s offices conducting pulmonary function tests and providing patient education
  • Asthma (or pulmonary) education program helping kids and adults learn to cope with their condition
  • Smoking cessation programs assisting those who want to kick the habit for good
  • Air transport and ambulance programs providing for people in need of immediate medical attention
  • Case management programs helping devise long-term care plans for patients

Respiratory therapists are the go-to experts in their facilities for respiratory care technology.  It is the only profession formally educated and tested in the provision of ventilator management.  They understand how to apply high tech devices in the care and treatment of patients, assess patients to ensure the treatments are working properly, and make the care changes necessary to arrive at the best outcome for the patient.

Advancement opportunities

  • Supervisory, management and administration opportunities exist, with corresponding pay increases!
  • RTs specializing in home care often branch out even further, establishing their own home care companies.
  • Respiratory diagnostic services, patient care education, and other services related to the field.
  • Corporate world has positions with equipment manufacturers as product or marketing specialists.  An RT possesses technical knowledge and patient care experience that is invaluable to these firms.
  • Faculty position teaching respiratory therapy students; clinical education coordinator for a hospital
  • Respiratory care research conducting the clinical studies that form the scientific basis for the profession.

Education needed

  • RTs may enter the field with a minimum of an Associate’s Degree from a community college
  • A Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) is the entry-level position.  A Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) requires additional education, but receives a greater salary.

Degree Plans

  • Degree plans vary between colleges.  Consult the RT Program Director for specific requirements.

Salary: Average annual earnings: $56,222, NEW graduates: $41,538

While U.S. employment is forecast to increase by 15%, the need for RTs will grow by up to 26%! The Monthly Labor Review (Nov. 2007) projects 38,000 new opening for RTs through 2016.  As of 2008, there are only about 120,000 respiratory therapists nationwide.  With the current graduation rates, there is a 58% annual shortage of needed graduates in the Respiratory Therapy profession!

Gina Buldra, BS, RRT, RCP
ENMU-R  Program Director
The Respiratory Therapy Program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) [ 1248 Harwood Rd., Bedford, TX 76021 (817) 283-2835 CoARC accreditation # 200455.