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How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Interested in pursuing a health profession but not sure exactly where to focus? There are many areas of specialization to explore in healthcare and respiratory therapy is definitely one of them.

Check out this guide for everything you need to know about becoming a respiratory therapist. We will answer key questions, including how long it takes to become a respiratory therapist.

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists work in clinics, hospitals, and specialty rehabilitation centers. They are healthcare professionals who work with patients suffering from chronic respiratory issues and illness including lung disease and asthma. 

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

A respiratory therapist is not a doctor and cannot give diagnoses or provide direct patient care without a doctor’s permission. That said, respiratory therapists are experts in assessing pulmonary function and lung capacity and are elemental in treating patients in need of respiratory therapy. 

Collaborate With Doctors to Assess Pulmonary Function

Working with doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists assess pulmonary function and work on pulmonary rehabilitation with patients in need. 

Test and Monitor Lung Capacity

Respiratory therapists are experts in testing and monitoring lung capacity. They take initial chest exams and analyze blood and gas levels. 

Carry out Patient Care Plans and Evaluation

After working with doctors to identify health issues, respiratory therapists will help carry out treatment plans. They work individually with patients in disease management while evaluating how their treatment is influencing lung capacity and pulmonary health.

Essential Respiratory Therapist Skills

Technical Knowledge of Respiratory Care

One of the most important skills that any respiratory therapist must have is a strong technical background in respiratory care.

Troubleshooting Skills

Because of the unpredictability of patient health and treatment outcomes, respiratory therapists should have strong and fast troubleshooting skills. If one treatment isn’t working or if a patient’s health deteriorates rapidly, they should be able to think quickly and act swiftly. 

Interpersonal Skills

Respiratory therapists work directly with patients and should make them feel comfortable throughout the course of their treatment. Strong interpersonal skills are essential.

Respiratory Therapist Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for a respiratory therapist is $61,330. The more experience and certifications a therapist has, the higher their expected salary.

The job prospects for respiratory therapists are very favorable. The BLS predicts that opportunities in the field will grow by 21 percent by 2028 as aging populations demand more specific, therapeutic care. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

You can get an entry-level job in respiratory therapy with just an associate degree in the field and the required certification to practice, the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). Most respiratory therapists will pursue bachelor’s degrees, though, so that they can make themselves eligible for more advanced positions throughout their careers.

A full-time associate degree takes two years to complete and a full-time bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. So, how long it takes to become a respiratory therapist will depend on the program you choose and when you are able to take the certification exam. Typically, the process should take between two and four years.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Get a Degree in Respiratory Therapy

There are no standard educational requirements for becoming a respiratory therapist. The minimum requirement is an associate degree so you do need to attend some kind of respiratory therapist school.

Whether you pursue an associate or a bachelor’s degree, make sure to find an institution with accreditation for respiratory care from the Commission for the Accreditation of Respiratory Care (CoARC). 

Step 2: Get Certified by the National Board for Respiratory Care

With an associate or bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy, you will get your state license to practice. All states require that licensed respiratory therapists also become board certified and become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) by taking the board exam.

Step 3: Get Professional Experience

You can work as a respiratory therapist with a degree and the CRT. It’s a good idea to get experience in the field before pursuing further certifications.

Step 4: Get Certified as a Registered Respiratory Therapist

After becoming a CRT, you should consider becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Though the RRT certification is not required, it is becoming increasingly more common and will make you a more competitive professional.

Should You Become a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapy is a growing field. As the population continues to age, elderly patients with chronic respiratory diseases will be in need of specialized patient care.

Respiratory therapists are playing an essential role in providing supportive care for patients in 2020. 


How many years does it take to become a respiratory therapist?
There is no one answer to this question; it depends on several factors. It can take anywhere from two to four years of full-time study to get an associate or a bachelor’s degree, respectively. You can start working as an entry-level respiratory therapist with an associate degree, state licensure, and the Certified Respiratory Therapist certification.
What do respiratory therapists make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, respiratory therapists earn a mean annual salary of $61,330.
How do you become a respiratory technician?
You can become a respiratory technician by completing a one-year certificate program in respiratory therapy. Respiratory technicians work under the supervision of a respiratory therapist and have fewer responsibilities than respiratory therapists.
Should I become a respiratory therapist?
A career in respiratory therapy can be extremely rewarding if you are passionate about providing supportive patient care.
How much does respiratory school cost?
Cost varies widely from program to program, and will also depend on whether you are earning a two-year associate degree or a  four-year bachelor’s degree. Community colleges and technical schools will usually offer lower-cost programs than those available at four-year universities. On average, programs cost between $11,000 and $33,000 per semester.
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